My Dad Always Used To Say, "Because I Said So"It's the end of another year, blah blah blah. I don't need to introduce this concept.
What marks 2013 to my mind is that it's the year death metal returned. Not a single death metal album made my list last year, not even the honorable mentions. That's changed. We're past all the fads, we're over technical death metal, "modern" death metal is now a misnomer, and even the "new wave of old school death metal" has run its course, leaving behind a few stragglers who are, for the most part, the cream of that crop. Now, fad free, death metal is thriving again.
The other themes you might pick up on with this list are dark Americana, and anything female-fronted, heavy, and smooth. I'm really digging those right now.
As a warning, not everything on this list is metal. In fact, a lot of it isn't. Also, these albums don't necessarily place consistently with the scores I initially gave them. That was then, this is now, even if then was just a few weeks ago.
One last warning before I get to it: This list is going to be slanted towards the PR folks, label reps, and band members who give me access to promos. Not because it's a bribe, but because I simply didn't listen to much else. And, to those people--notably Nathan T. Birk, Chris Bruni of Profound Lore, EarsplitPR, Relapse, Joel Costa, and plenty of others--I give a big thanks.
13. Kylesa: Ultraviolet
Female-fronted, heavy, and smooth. Kylesa are one of the most interesting metal bands out there right now. I do believe their primary source material these days is outside my knowledge, but that doesn't matter. Ultraviolet speaks to me.
12. Shitfucker: Suck Cocks in Hell
A few of you suggested that I rated Nekrofilth's record too low. After listening a few more times, I agree. "Junkie Cunt" is too damn good to ignore. But I also rated another one too low. Out of all the ugly, idiotic records from Hells Headbangers (and similar) in 2013, Shitfucker's Suck Cocks in Hell just stands out. They are having way too much fun.
11. Vorum: Poisoned Void
Vorum's Poisoned Void came out at the beginning of the year, to little fanfare. It's not generating much conversation at the end of the year, and that's unjust. Fantastic production and great hooks make this pure death metal gold that even my toddler can get into.
10. The Black Heart Rebellion: Har Nevo
If members Tool, Neurosis, and Wovenhand got together to make a record that wasn't quite like any of the three, it might sound like Har Nevo. The Black Heart Rebellion unleashed a powerful, unhinged some kind of rock record.
9. Vastum: Patricidal Lust
People gushed about this band's demo before, and I didn't get it. But Patricidal Lust is vindication to anyone who proclaimed Vastum to be something special. This is the cream of the OSDM crop.
8. Beastmilk: Climax
Kvohst is a musical genius. That's the only way to explain how damn good he can be in both Hexvessel and Beastmilk. The latter's Climax is deathrock in every way, but with just a hint to tell you that you're supposed to be having fun. Also: Incredibly catchy.
7. Lux Interna: There Is Light in the Body, There Is Blood in the Sun
I'm not familiar with all the Neurosis side projects, but I wouldn't be surprised if there was one that sounded like Lux Interna. There Is Light in the Body, There Is Blood in the Sun has all the lush arrangement and tension of the best Neurosis, but without the metal. I'll take Appalachian folk like this any day.
6. True Widow: Circumambulation
True Widow play shoegaze that's not shoegaze for two reasons. One, it's way too catchy to be categorized as anything-gaze, although to be sure you could easily get lost in a trance listening to Circumambulation. Two, it's heavier than 98% of metal albums this year.
5. Portal: Vexovoid
Portal are the very embodiment of what death metal should be: Scary, sickening, and confusing. But now, also, you can hear what they're doing. And somehow it still feels like traveling down Cthulhu's digestive tract. While clarity of production tends to be a mark of greater accessibility, it's hard to make that case on Vexovoid.
4. Subrosa: More Constant Than the Gods
I've had a little more time to wrap my head around More Constant Than the Gods, and now it's firmly settled into my chest. Subrosa evokes a very physical feeling in me. They literally affect my heart. It may be dangerous to listen to these soulful, heavy, gut-wrenching tunes, but I do it anyway.
3. Oranssi Pazuzu: Valonielu
Valonielu is not as disturbingly vast and impenetrable as its predecessor. Instead, it's Oranssi Pazuzu taking their psychedelic black metal and playing around with it, making a record with all the pop sensibility that Blake Judd tried to muster but keeping more blackened credibility than Nachtmystium has had for years.
2. Man's Gin: Rebellion Hymns
Smiling Dogs was huge for me. It profoundly impacted my listening habits. Still, it is a crudely-drawn shadow in comparison to Rebellion Hymns. A full band effort and more, Man's Gin has surpassed any promise they had. It's dynamic, infectious, pained, cathartic, and many other things over its course.
1. Ulcerate: Vermis
Death metal two-point-oh, perhaps? Normally, if you eviscerate all the normal rules of melody, harmony, and rhythm, you'll get dismissed by many folks as "just noise." That's true even in extreme metal circles. But there is no denying the terrible success that is Ulcerate's Vermis. It's simultaneously atmospheric and brutal, while remaining perfectly coherent. Its dynamics are beyond the ones you're used to noticing--not just slow/fast but slow/fast/slowfast (you'll know it when you hear it). Vermis will hold you rapt far past the rapture.
Honorable mentions: Altar of Plagues: Teethed Glory & Injury; Botanist: IV - Mandragora; De Arma: Lost, Alien & Forlorn; The Dillinger Escape Plan: One of Us Is the Killer; Nekrofilth: Devil's Breath; Vhöl: Vhöl