50. Strawberry Girls – French Ghetto
I’ll admit that French Ghetto flew under my radar all the way to the creation of this list, but there’s always time to repent, right? Fresh from the get-go, the pop hooks of this insanely catchy math rock release create a dance floor between your ear cavities and set straight to gyrating and bopping along all the way through on their race to the finish. With an air of confidence and maybe a little bit of a devil may care attitude, the relative levity of the album leaves it feeling fast and fun, especially through the first half.
Of course, the influence from hook masterminds Adebisi Shank and Straweberry Girls’ guitarist Zac Garren’s former band Dance Gavin Dance is apparent, but French Ghetto deftly manages to skirt the dangers of merely quoting and recycling source material while going just over the top enough to neatly put together what may easily be the year’s most addicting math rock release. — Tom Gerhart
49. Soilwork – The Living Infinite
During a year that was rather generous to the metal community, some may have overlooked Soilwork’s latest double dosage of melodic death metal – but it packs more than enough of a punch to deserve a spot on this list. The guitar-work is exceptionally good, the drums are frantic, and there’s a healthy mix of clean and harsh vocals that works to the band’s advantage more than one might expect. What’s really impressive, however, is that the band manages to maintain our full attention throughout the nearly 90-minute runtime of The Living Infinite. It was a ballsy move to release a 2-disc album, but Soilwork were certainly up for the task. Just go spin ‘This Momentary Bliss’ or the high-octane ‘Spectrum of Eternity’ to get an idea of what you can expect throughout this lengthy but consistent release from the Swedish metal veterans. — Aaron Arneson
48. Bansheebeat – Spiral Power
Can we talk about drums for a minute? I’m not 100% certain, but I think every track on Spiral Power has a different drum set. This is the first thing that really drew me to bansheebeat’s first full length album, of course there’s the music itself which is as atmospheric as it is catchy, but come on man, those drums. Take Zebesian for example, where every drum tone on the song is a sample from the video game Metroid. That’s just nuts and something that I just have to appreciate. It’s sounds great too don’t get me wrong, but with drums and every aspect of Spiral Power it’s all about attention to detail. bansheebeat’s immense focus, creativity, songwriting ability, and attention to detail result in one of the best electronic albums of the year. — Rob Lowe
47. Clutch – Earth Rocker
One of the main voices of the stoner rock scene, Neil Fallon, proclaims himself as an ‘earth rocker’ in the title track from his group’s latest album. This term may very well refer to the whole community, as Clutch proudly present one of their most essential and inventive records that superbly eclipses the entire genre. Released at a time when stoner rock often feels drained and overly repetitive, the outfit show the world once more how this blues-soaked brand of heavy rock should be composed and performed. Each number has its own infectious groove, which along with the group’s routinely dexterous songwriting, makes the effort sound like the greatest hits compilation rather than a regular record. Cuts like ‘Crucial Velocity’, ‘Book, Saddle & Go’, ‘Cyborg Bette’ and ‘Gone Cold’ can be regarded as highlights in the discography that spans over the course of two decades. In a certain review it was mentioned that Earth Rocker was only ‘business as usual’, but it’s a blatant misconception. Instead, the album feels like a brand new start for an already seasoned band. — Raul Stanciu
46. Paysage D’Hiver – Das Tor
As far as atmospheric black metal goes there are some that simply do it better. In a genre where the themes are laughably serious, the likes of Paysage D’Hiver present their music without restraint, giving life to the act’s bleaker outlook on life – surpassing many within the genre. Raw emotive black metal stereotypes caress the atmospherics constantly present. It’s not a matter of how raw can you get the production, rather it’s from creating an enveloping, ever-present sound that can reach the inner turmoil in the listeners’ mind, creating a listening experience rarely matched in modern music.
Das Tor culminates in four tracks, without let up. Tormented shrieks punch through the desolate winter to be found here, giving life to the fact that music can indeed be more than music. It gives us something to share with others, or to express our deepest feelings. Tobias “Wintherr” Möckl may not be the poster boy of black metal, but that wasn’t ever the point of the genre’s bleakest outputs. Das Tor is an album that lets you close your eyes in order to feel something different. — Robert Garland
45. Chelsea Wolfe – Pain Is Beauty
In the realm of pop music, Lorde played the part of bleak female singer who refused to play by the rules. The media and public alike fell for her black lipstick, anti-decadence lyrics and generally offbeat style. Such an image is not a foreign one to fans of established underground singer-songwriter Chelsea Wolfe, who has donned the dark hair and darker eyeliner since before Lorde’s middle school graduation. Her music is bleak, betrayed only by her soft, lilting voice which sounds free of all ethereal ties, hovering somewhere above the organs and syncopated drum beats. It’s music to get buried to, really, with the rhythmic marching of the first few tracks working in perfect time with a funeral procession while a violin wails in the background. Only “Destruction Makes the World Burn Brighter” steps far outside the realm of the funeral parlor while one-two punch of “Sick” and “Kings,” in all their dim spaciousness, certainly wouldn’t sound out of place as background music for the black-veiled. This may not have been the album’s intent- Wolfe actually covers themes ranging from ancestry to staples like love and perseverance- but it’s the overwhelming gloominess that will stick with you when all’s said and done. — Anonymous
44. Haken – The Mountain
My favorite prog album of the year and my official vote for album of the year overall, Haken’s The Mountain is the next big thing in progressive metal, which should be no surprise whatsoever looking at their previous albums. Spanning multiple epics including the beautifully bizarre bop of “Cockroach King” and the tempo shifting “Pareidolia,” The Mountain breezes through rock, metal, lounge, Eastern influence, strange carnival music, and more without even pausing for a second thought on your part or theirs, creating a striking and unique blend of music that’s been elevated to another plane. — Tom Gerhart
43. The Ocean – Pelagial
In a few words, The Ocean’s latest conceptual masterpiece, Pelagial, presents each of the seven levels of the sea with matching instrumentals. While a challenging task from the start, the album takes off with the lush piano lines of Epipelagic (the upmost layer, where light penetrates the water and life is abundant), then it sinks with increasing power and distortion of both vocals and music through Mesopelagic, Bathyalpelagic, Abyssopelagic, Hadopelagic, Demersal and, finally, shapes the brutal doom that represents Benthic (the ocean floor, forever blocked in complete darkness). It is a very pretentious effort, yet the band pulls it off through magnificent songwriting. There is also a subplot detailed through the lyrics, deeply influenced by Andrei Tarkovsky’s movie, Stalker (no spoiling). Even so, the words, along with the whole concept, are not shoved down the listener’s throat, being instead often left to interpretation, and thus, more accessible.
While initially developed as an instrumental album, Robin Staps’ decision to include Loic Rossetti was a pivotal moment, as he blends very well with the music and the mix of clean and harsh vocals provides another dimension and most importantly, a more personal tone to the whole project. This fact can be best heard on essential cuts such as ‘Hadopelagic II: Let Them Believe’, ‘Mesopelagic: Into The Uncanny’ or ‘Bathyalpelagic II: The Wish In Dreams’, even though there are no weak tunes here. Pelagial is arguably one of the band’s most valuable material yet, rivaling only Precambrian and it will definitely be hard to top. — Raul Stanciu
42. Nine Inch Nails – Hesitation Marks
After an Oscar win, a gorgeous wife, and two children, Trent Reznor still manages to conjure up demons to be purged. Hesitation Marks is not a “happy” album from Nine Inch Nails, and its mislabeling as such is far from warranted. Reznor discusses torment and turmoil here in the same cathartic manner as he always does, but the spin is that he’s focusing on the struggle of tearing away from a world of angst and misery as opposed to dwelling in the self-loathing. Make no mistake; as that still counts as general brooding, but it’s his first real display of progressive brooding with the intention of revealing an escape from a world shrouded in shadows. As conceptual as The Downward Spiral was, Reznor has never at once dabbled with this much reflectiveness and relished in the light at the end of the tunnel as he does here. If that isn’t a convincing argument for how this is Reznor’s most compelling collection of tracks without over-arching themes in years, then the capacious sonic palette and usage of synthesizers in an unorthodox manner should sufficiently solidify Hesitation Marks as evidence that Reznor is done over-working himself in search of an ultimate purpose, and is now a veteran of his refined industrial art that is in the business of making music that pleases ears and pushes boundaries. — Alex Beebe
41. Future Of The Left – How To Stop Your Brain In An Accident
“The music industry is lying to you!” warns Andy Falkous on ‘Singing of the Bonesaws,’ the monstrously entertaining curveball of his group’s fourth full-length. “It is telling you that you are excited… and you ARE excited!” he continues in his finest mock BBC accent: “Or rather you have confused excitement with the fear of missing out, which is understandable as these two feelings are closely related!” It’s easy to dismiss as token cynicism from a notoriously confrontational frontman, but in a year when artists and labels have pushed the boat further than ever to promote their products, its timing could not have been more appropriate.
The buildup to …Accident, of course, followed a very different path to the Reflektors and Random Access Memories of this world, with Falkous and company instead opting for a bout of fan funding. It’s a concept they admitted not being entirely comfortable with, but any fears regarding the response were shattered when their goal was achieved within five hours; an emphatic gesture of faith on their audience’s part, and the incendiary end product fully justified. Magnifying the bludgeoning riffs, feverish energy and lyrical hilarity in which they specialise, it is, according to the press release: “clearly their best album yet – no, it’s not open to debate,” and who am I to raise an eyebrow?! — AliW1993
40. Bonobo – The North Borders
Electronic music can sometimes get a bad rap for lacking in the human element, but Bonobo defies that generalization to an extreme on The North Borders, bringing nothing but soul to the album through the light and airy electronics of songs like “Cirrus” and the warming vocals of tracks like “Emkay.” Through a development in groove among a diverse range of instruments real and simulated, Bonobo has drafted one of the most cerebral, relaxing, and involved electronic albums released to date in The North Borders. — Tom Gerhart
39. The Story So Far – What You Don’t See
There’s nothing subtle about the way The Story So Far makes music. The guitars push forward in cascades of lowest-common-denominator power chords and the cymbals crash with the consistency of whitecaps pummeling against the shoreline. Any frills or deviations would be useless distractions from the onslaught of body blows that characterize the group’s music. As devastating as the brow-furrowing riffs are, the band relies on blunted vocalist Parker Cannon, the man whose vocal range amounts to how loudly or quietly he is yelling, to ignite their 8000 RPM engine. Whether he’s bellowing on the outro of “Stifled” or talking melodically on “Right Here,” he does so with a confident sneer and a WASPy sense of entitlement and world-weary anger only pop-punkers can truly appreciate. True to the album’s title, the source of Cannon’s discontent is unclear on What You Don’t See, but whatever it is will make you want to punch through walls and kick small dogs in visceral fits of directionless aggression. — Nathan Flynn
38. State Faults – Resonate Desperate
It’s probably a bit unorthodox to use this blurb to discuss a single song, but I’m going to do it anyway. ‘Wildfires’ by State Faults is a monster of a track, it starts with a very simple chord progression and rhythm section that eventually builds and builds as pieces are added. The soul melting high pitched, emotionally drenched vocals come in, as does the lead guitar track, but things are only getting started. It’s really not until the pre-chorus kicks in, that jangly tambourine thing the drummer uses on his hi-hat in almost every track, that ear worm of a guitar riff that eventually transforms into transcendental tremolo picking, and of course those screams that fall in and out of desperate yelping and almost melodic singing. And then after a couple of choruses it’s all over, no bridge, no interlude, no big ending because none of that is necessary for the best song of 2013. ‘Wildfires’ is simply put post-hardcore/screamo perfection. Oh and the other ten songs are pretty good too. — Treb
37. Shai Hulud – Reach Beyond The Sun
I honestly don’t know how Matt Fox fits so many riffs into each and every song. Shai Hulud’s riffs are so strong, that one or two could easily fill a song with a simple verse/chorus/verse song structure, but Shai don’t roll that way, that would be too easy. Memorable, catchy and crushing riffs are thrown out left and right, played once or twice and then completely abandoned. It’s almost reckless to write songs this way, and it’s clear why it takes Matt Fox and the boys five years to make a record, but with riffs these good made so abundant it’s definitely worth it. — Treb
36. Karnivool – Asymmetry
Asymmetry is an oddball album mostly for the sake of being an oddball album. Showing off their flagrant Tool influence, appreciation for the sounds of the East, and peppering in some vocal hints that stick to the main streets of progressive metal (I hear a lot of Seventh Wonder in the softer moments), Asymmetry comes together through mostly mid-tempo and mid-range tunes that, for all their effort to shake things up, mostly wind up playing them fairly close to the vest.
Each track has its own quirk from the looped glitch riff (is it even a riff?) of the title track and the dripping reverb warbles of “Alpha Omega” to the extreme crunch and fuzz of “AM War,” leading to a patchwork of progressive metal styles that creates an album that sounds as slightly off as one might expect. It’s certainly not the cleanest thing ever made, but in the world of progressive metal and in following Tool’s footsteps so closely, being a little off kilter’s bound to be a good thing for these lads and their fans. — Tom Gerhart
35. Daft Punk – Random Access Memories
Random Access Memories‘ continued massive appeal lies mostly in its accessibility. This homage to the late ’70s and early ’80s disco music gives the impression of simplicity in both sound and structure, yet Daft Punk are such perfectionists (plus gear freaks) that it’s hard not to think each second has been twisted or rewritten until it sounded just right. Yes, ‘Get Lucky’ has been overplayed and at this point no one wants to hear about these guys anymore, at least for a while, but it’s such a fine tune that feels like it has been around since forever. However, the album is meant to be experienced as a whole and at the end of the day no matter how you look at it, it really delivers. Each track has that something to keep the listener pumped for more, whether disguised as summer flicks like the infectious ‘Give Life Back To Music’, ‘Fragments Of Time’, ‘Doin’ It Right’ & ‘Lose Yourself To Dance’ or taking shape as more quiet, moody moments such as ‘The Game Of Love’, ‘Within’ & ‘Touch’.
Even so, Random Access Memories as a whole is actually not for everyone. There’s a lot of nostalgia behind the concept and the duo’s constant quest to prove themselves and the world they are human after all might lead to some head scratches. Not anyone buys their shtick, so those who aren’t looking for depth or throwbacks in their club music won’t have the patience to sit through this entire vintage jam. Still, a lot of time, resources and patience had been put into RAM that it deserves at least one spin even from the most skeptical listeners. — Raul Stanciu
34. Streetlight Manifesto – The Hands That Thieve
My grandmother died this year, right around the time this album came out. But until writing this, I don’t think I ever truly appreciated how much the album meant to me. I know that nothing here really deals with the post-mortem much – excepting closer “Your Day Will Come,” the record’s most outstanding highlight and top-3 Streetlight lock – but the beauty of Kalnoky’s simple witticisms is that they’re so universally applicable. There’s something to take away from every song here, not to mention catchy melodies and soaring, instantly bewitching hooks. Even in the past, when Kalnoky’s lyrics have been almost obsessively suicide-centric, the conversely happy-go-lucky nature of Streetlight’s brilliant (consider that an entendre for as many definitions as “brilliant” has) backtrack has sustained the music in such a powerful way. When that gorgeously bittersweet and unexpected (I’ve listened to this song something like 80 times and it never fails to take me by surprise and rip at my tear ducts) horn solo early on in “Your Day Will Come” drowns my heart with the titanic burden of sorrow, “If Only For Memories” reminds me of mirth, insisting that I recall the unfading grin and lively countenance that were as staple to my grandma’s daily steelo as her sari was. “Toe to Toe” punched me in the throat and consistently reminded me of the torturous months ahead, but insisted that things were going to be okay, and the Keasbey-esque, back-to-basics punk “Ungrateful” told me why. The Hands That Thieve reminded me and truly demonstrated to me why Streetlight Manifesto has such a fervent, dedicated fanbase – and as long as I have this album, they’ll never break me down. — Aziz
33. Arctic Monkeys – AM
Back in June, I became embroiled in an argument with a group of friends, after they claimed Arctic Monkeys’ imminent headlining slot at Glastonbury would confirm their status as the great British band of their time; “our generation’s Beatles,” as they put it, with nary a pinch of irony. That particular statement still makes me chortle, but the longer they graced the Worthy Farm stage, the more I came to realise they’re growing into their elevated standing. Let’s be honest, legends or not, their performance pissed all over The Rolling Stones, and Mumford & Sons? HAAAAAAAA!
What’s more, the Sheffield-cum-LA quartet followed their finest moment with a record which only propelled that forward momentum – one which cast aside those indie origins and depicted a group finally ready for the big-time they’d inhabited from the very beginning. Sure, the stench of Sabbath emanating from ‘Do I Wanna Know?’ and ‘R U Mine?’ is undeniable, but for sheer muscularity they take some beating, so much so that it’s difficult to recall an opening in recent years sounding more assertive. Another question, ‘Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?’ meanwhile, makes good on promises of Dr. Dre influences and duly marks their most exciting recording since the mid ’00s, while the likes of ‘No. 1 Party Anthem’ and ‘Mad Sounds’ float on the cloud of Lennon-meets-Reed loveliness Alex Turner has long since mastered.
To be clear, AM is certainly not “the greatest record of the last decade” or “the first act of the real golden age” as the ever reliable NME spluttered, whilst reaching for its nearest box of Kleenex. What it has done, however, is reunite a fanbase torn apart by two divisive (and perhaps harshly treated) records in Humbug and Suck It and See, whilst simultaneously raising a finger to those, like me, who doubted their credentials. Can they go higher still? Whatever the outcome, their next move should be fascinating… — AliW1993
32. Ulver – Messe I.X-VI.X
Ulver are perhaps one of the most unpredictable artists in modern music having explored a variety of different styles since abandoning the black metal and neofolk sound of their earlier albums. One thing that has remained a constant factor however is the quality of their output and their latest release certainly wasn’t about to break this trend. Recorded with the Tromsø Chamber Orchestra, Messe is a fascinating blend of classical and electronic music that excels in creating an intense and engrossing atmosphere. The dark orchestral arrangements of orchestra mingle with Ulver’s electronic soundscapes creating an almost cinematic experience that sees the album build in tension throughout the first half. This haunting atmosphere reaches its climax with the brilliantly dramatic “Son of Man”, the first of only two songs to feature Garm’s rich, emotive vocals. Although used sparingly, Garm’s vocal contributions still manage to provide some of the album’s highlights, not least the beautifully melodic vocal passage of album closer “Mother of Mercy”. On Messe, Ulver have brought together much of what made their previous releases so captivating and with the addition of a full orchestra have created one of the most gripping albums of their illustrious career. — Jamie Twort
31. Scale the Summit – The Migration
Is it possible to take such success for granted? My love of Chris Letchford’s band of instrumental prog titans is well documented, but for some reason a fourth consecutive album full of beautiful and mind-bending organic musical complexities just seems like par for the course. The Migration brings back some of the metal edge most exemplified on 2007’s debut Monument and marks a return from the dark innerspace of The Collective to once again roam nature’s wonders through some of the group’s wildest technical performances to date. — Tom Gerhart
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