30. Obliteration – Black Death Horizon
OSDM revival was a pretty interesting novelty around the 2009-2010 period when pissed off metalheads (rightfully so) realized how terrible modern metal was and remembered how sweet it was back in the day and just started playing the same stuff they liked in ‘89. As of 2013, in much the same fashion as when metal died in 1993, the oversaturated landscape of this now hip OSDM revival scene is producing less and less interesting music. Thankfully, just when all hope of metal ever being good again was lost, Obliteration put out another record and make everything else this side of 2009 obsolete and boring.
While 2009’s Nekropsalms was more psychedelic and doomy, Black Death Horizon is a no-holds barred black death thrash attack to the face and it rules. With organic, old school production that would give Fenriz a stiffy and riffs that would piss even Jesus off, Black Death Horizon took the almost perfect formulas the band dug up from some frozen grave in Norway and somehow managed to improve on almost all of them. Seriously, there’s really no other way to describe this album. If you like metal, listen to this, and if you don’t like it, kill yourself. Sincerely, Satan — Hyperion
29. Nails – Abandon All Life
Abandon All Life is an all-devouring primordial void awaiting the screaming entrance of immortals at the end of an unfathomable existence in a nightmare underworld. If you find yourself face to face with it; prepare for a wailing, fiery descent through the blackened depths of permanent barbaric rage. Through the lava pools of tortured riffs painfully melting flesh and psychotic rhythmic carnage vaporizing bone fragments, we hear the words of diablo himself sporadically forging coherence; “I TAKE WHAT THE FUCK I WANT”, “SO GO TALK YOUR FUCKING SHIT”. Like a spike of directness and honesty to the chest, Abandon All Life returns any preconceived notions of “music” to its most primal state of “sound”; as a short blast of high volume shape shifting formlessness that stimulates life at its most primal and essential core. — MisterTornado
28. Cult of Luna – Vertikal
Cult Of Luna open the playbook, disregard it and go back to making the music they are held in regard for. Even with a lineup change and an already solid back catalogue, Vertikal manages to build on the past to create something cohesive and with flow. Dabbling in various electronica and post rock alike, Cult Of Luna’s Vertikal becomes an opus in its own right. For those familiar with the band’s previous efforts, there is much to be looked forward to here. If one caters to the initial premise that these boys will “never be what they used to be”, they are correct – and not. Cult Of Luna show growth, moving away from their sound while comparatively sticking to their own winning recipe. If there was any doubt that Cult Of Luna have lost their appeal, ‘Vicarious Redemption’ stands as a monolithic slap to the face of disparing critics and a notch in the members careers as musicians. — Robert Garland
27. Russian Circles – Memorial
Around each Russian Circles there is a certain hype and now I understand it. What this power trio can do with a basic setup, six others can’t match. The sheer force of their riffs is heavily complemented by multiple sonic layers, while the gentle, mournful side feels like a separate entity that’s ready to wrap the listener in its own charm. On Memorial, each counterpart usually shares the spotlight separately, while bringing the best out of each member. Cuts like the scorching ‘Deficit’ or ‘Burial’ are purely hypnotic and when put next to the acoustic eulogy ‘Memoriam’ and the gorgeous ‘Cheyenne’, both have considerably more impact. Even so, the most beautiful track is ‘1777′, combining the two sounds into an excellent progressive piece. The epic guitar lead feels bigger with each minute, as halfway through, the rhythm section breaks out of the loop to pave the way for the climax. There’s nothing to skip here because everything is lovely crafted. With all the diversity and structural changes, it is amazing how much can Russian Circles do within only 37 minutes. — Raul Stanciu
26. The World Is a Beautiful Place… – Whenever, If Ever
This was easily the cheeriest album I heard in 2013, no debate. The music was filled with life, and the singer’s raw, earnest vocals got me emotionally invested in a way that not many albums do. I don’t usually listen to emo music, but this album was beautiful, with enough sparkling guitars and lighthearted spirit to provide an enjoyable, memorable moment in time. This is the type of the album that I am already looking back at, remembering how good it was, and how it made me feel when I first listened to it. Sufficient to say, this album is absolutely worth your time and just might surprise you. Check it out! — pizzamachine
25. Ulcerate – Vermis
New Zealand’s poster boys of death metal triumph with their latest release. Vermis is a visceral onslaught of atmospheric death metal, culminating into a fifty-four minute testament to the band’s prior works. It may not have the same initial impact that their sophomore, Everything Is Fire had – rather it stands by its own accord in a modern world of overpopulated death metal. Vermis creates an industrialist atmospheric setting, furthering an impressive catalogue with the band’s titanic assault on the ears. Ulcerate don’t make easy listening music, rather they force feed their victims, over and over again. Sure it may be working off the band’s original formula but the done before sound takes very little away from Vermis. — Robert Garland
24. Carcass – Surgical Steel
Not only did Carcass comeback with one of the best albums of their career, they wrote one of the most surprising and best metal albums of the year to boot. Seventeen years in the making, Carcass picks up where Heartwork left off. Comprised of half the original members, Bill Steer has never sounded this inventive or catchy with his unique melodic death metal riffs and Jeff Walker’s snarly rasp is still full of piss and vinegar after all these years. The other two new additions that showed up to this comeback album sound like nothing ever happened to the original band in the first place. Quite simply put, Surgical Steel is the comeback album any metal fan could ever ask for. — Karl V.H.(Wizard)
23. Norma Jean – Wrongdoers
It has been stated before, over and over again. The energetic chapters of metalcore have lost something over the years. It comes down to stagnant ideas that move at a snails pace while only bolstering the fact that most bands of the genre want to be something different – whether they achieve it or not. For Norma Jean, Wrongdoers shows a band doing things right, cementing themselves as a band in an overpopulated genre. Wrongdoers is a highlight of the boy’s careers blending some of the best features trialled over the course of their previous albums and bundled together in their opus to date. Wrongdoers holds all the traits of a solid to great metalcore effort; energetic although somewhat formulaic beats meet melodic vocals and catchy hooks. The album itself stands as a testament to their fans in a live setting encouraging a high octane, head-banging mood throughout its fifty minute length. — Robert Garland
22. Protest the Hero – Volition
Passing by the djent train, Periphery III (better known as Volition) shows Protest the Hero refining their now signature brand of progressive metalcore by ironing out the rough patches from Scurrilous to create an album that’s more well-rounded and enjoyable throughout while still delivering the variety and velocity that propelled them to their current status. Through the versed technicality of “Tilting Against Windmills” to the almost laughable pitbull-centric lyrics of “A Life Embossed,” Volition delivers with such vitality and force that lyrics become less than an afterthought to sheer musical muscle that executes the obviously well-engineered design of each and every track. Because, if we’re being honest, for as bad a lyric as “If a pitbull is a weapon you’ll have to pry them” is, the melody to which it’s sung and framed will linger in your head for days to come. — Tom Gerhart
21. Tim Hecker – Virgins
Throughout the years Tim Hecker has managed to make seemingly obscure and enigmatic sound experiments sound mystically inspired and achingly personal. It’s daunting that on Virgins, arguably his most experimental album to date, that he still manages to not only hold our attention, but command it skyward with a vigorous thrust of natural and organic phenomenon. Hecker’s signature static-woven waves of synthesized drones exhale new life through live instrumentation, as harmonic glockenspiels, breathy bass clarinets, and moaning didgeridoos accent Hecker’s compositions to free flowing amalgamations sailing through rich sonic depths. Despite its ambition and immensity, Virgins remains a singular and elemental piece; a stripped and naked celestial portrait flowing through incidental and naturally occurring realms. — MisterTornado
20. A Lot Like Birds – No Place
No Place is an album that feels youthful to a fault. Full of energetic leads and screams spaced out by posturing, beat-backed heart-on-sleeve storytelling that reads like a page from a neglected 11th grader’s diary (“I lost all my sleep on Christmas Eve / And I’d do it all over for the little optimism that I harbored before you taught me to never believe?” Come on now.)
Yet that youthful energy carries A Lot Like Birds far as they excel in driving tenor tremolos, electronic beats, sudden stops, time signature change-ups, and post-rock breaks throughout the downhill rumbling excess of No Place. As varied as the instrumentation on the album can be, it feels very indulgent, even bloated – qualities, again, not far from the relatively small sphere of youth that keep the album from becoming a deranged letter full of childish whining.
Of course, the added musical maturity seen following “Connector” help round it out an obvious theme of neglect and anguish with musical promise, with the juxtaposition of obviously mature and developed musical skill and the relatively sophomoric lyrics placing No Place in odd territory only charted better by Fordirelifesake. Maybe these maps are completely drawn from memory, but their scattered and tattered directions do lead somewhere and as young as No Place is, it definitely has a vitality and drive that appeal to and register with many. — Tom Gerhart
19. Boards of Canada – Tomorrow’s Harvest
Boards of Canada have never really made the same album twice if you sit down and think about it. From the childlike, nostalgia heavy Music Has The Right To Children to the much more sterile, IDM focused melancholy of Geogaddi and on to divisive and acoustically experimental The Campfire Headphase, the only thing each album has really had in common is that they all look into the past for inspiration. Tomorrow’s Harvest is different precisely because the heavy nostalgia that has become such a staple of the BoC legacy has been flipped on its head to create a somber, melancholy, atmospheric gaze into a future that is at best uncertain.
Discounting some of their non-album work, Tomorrow’s Harvest is Boards of Canada’s most downtempo, ambient focused work out of their entire pantheon of albums. And while the Scottish duo’s music has never really been immediate, the result is an album that is as distant as it is difficult, but no less rewarding than anything they have released in the past. Tracks like Jacquard Causeway, Split Your Infinities, and Come to Dust are some of the best in the Boards of Canada cannon and the rest of the album’s immaculately produced sonic landscape provides a wholly unique and new environment to spend time exploring. Full of sublimely beautiful passages and a quintessentially Boards of Canada aesthetic, Tomorrow’s Harvest stands strong with the rest of the duo’s output, and perhaps, ironically enough, will only truly be appreciated as it is looked back upon by those who took the time to let it sink in. — Hyperion
18. Sigur Ros – Kveikur
With all the elaborate promotional campaigns, shock announcements and incessantly plugged premieres, 2013 has been a year of big budget and expertly strategised reveals. However, while the likes of ‘Reflektor,’ ‘Where Are We Now’ or Yeezus all drummed-up a greater fuss, no unveiling over the past 12 months has clogged me with excitement quite like those dense, molten slabs of bass which usher in ‘Brennisteinn.’ With whispers circulating of a new “industrial” direction or even a return to the ominous murk of Ágætis Byrjun, I was clearly far from alone in being bowled over, and with the group supposedly readying their “most aggressive” LP to date, those claims certainly appeared to hold some weight.
Once Kveikur did drop, however, it quickly became apparent that none of those statements depicted the full tale. Sure, the change in tact from 2012’s understated Valtari is pronounced in the extreme, yet its immediacy owes to far more than added muscle and a relatively brief 48-minute runtime. In fact, in the pop splendour of ‘Ísjaki’ and the call-and-response aesthetic of ‘Rafstraumur,’ it sports hooks more direct than anything on Með suð… or even ‘Hoppípolla;’ a loosening many have inevitably linked to influential multi-instrumentalist Kjartan Sveinsson’s departure earlier in the year. Brimming with diversity and a welcome sense of novelty, it can’t quite claim a place in their top tier, but nevertheless seems to have reignited their flame following a phase of comparative lukewarmly. — AliW1993
17. Laura Stevenson – Wheel
I could go on and on about how much work must be involved in the way Laura Stevenson takes the best of folk, indie, pop, and rock and turns it into an American masterpiece, but Wheel is so honest and open that it feels like Laura doesn’t even have to try to write the music heard on the album. It feels like music simply sprouts up from the ground wherever Laura walks, effortlessly turning life into art, while Laura merely takes the time to bend down and prune the music with a set of delicate shears and hand it to us. And what a gift it is.
Kicking bleeding heart sentimentality to the curb for songs that would more accurately be described as beautifully candid, Wheel takes a grounded approach to its entire breadth of work. But it is, perhaps, the poetic and cerebral songwriting of Wheel that meshing with its airy effortlessness that makes it both a relatable, down-to-earth album that doesn’t hesitate to get its nails dirty and a work of untouchably divine serenity that was immaculately conceived and born of Laura Stevenson, and that balance is just one of the many reasons that Wheel is a 2013 standout. — Tom Gerhart
16. Steven Wilson – The Raven That Refused to Sing
Steven Wilson has finally fulfilled his prog rock dream. Not only has he assembled an extremely proficient backing band, but managed to bring Alan Parsons in too, to produce his latest masterpiece, The Raven That Refused To Sing (and other stories). The album is classic stuff from head to toe: the eclectic, ever shifting instrumentation and the supernatural-inspired lyrics are heavily reminiscent of some of the genre’s essential acts, such as King Crimson, Pink Floyd or Genesis, while Wilson passionately adds his own imprint that made him such an icon over the past decades. Even if Porcupine Tree is sorely missed, his solo career has been more or less a rebirth for him. — Raul Stanciu
15. Arcade Fire – Reflektor
I must admit, I was never an Arcade Fire fan and still can’t be called one. However, I approached Reflektor with an open heart and unwillingly got mesmerized by it. Divided in two parts, the disco-oriented first disc is the most gripping. Fun tracks like the bass heavy ‘We Exist’, ‘Joan Of Arc’, ‘Normal Person’ or the David Bowie-assisted title cut are extremely catchy and easily convinced me to discover the moodier, more eclectic second half. The clever interplay between the instruments along with the exotic elements (which include Haitian and Jamaican-influenced horn and percussive sections) give the record a nice twist, thus keeping it from falling flat. Of course, at 75 minutes, the album is a bit bloated, yet the tracks naturally flow one through another, even in between the two parts. The band definitely didn’t want it to become inconsistent, so they risked and opted for a higher number of tunes, rather than flopping with less.
Generally regarded as a slight departure from their usual sound, for me, Reflektor is a lot more entertaining than their previous endeavors. Those might have been a lot more critically acclaimed or commercially successful, yet this is Arcade Fire being fun (or maybe I ain’t fun, who knows). Call them hipster-friendly, pretentious or simply prideful, but Reflektor is a strong record that can be easily digested by both fans and newcomers. — Raul Stanciu
14. Kanye West – Yeezus
Yeezus has terrible lyrics, it’s wildly inconsistent, it’s juvenile, it’s short, it’s profane, it’s all over the place, and half the site hates it with a passion, yet somehow it found its way here. I kind of feel like an asshole for liking Yeezus so much, there’s a dirty “I just ate a whole tub of ice cream” or “I just jerked off in my friend’s bathroom” type of I hate myself vibe to it. Kanye’s decision to abandon the lush, and complex soundscapes of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy with blunt, simple, and in your face industrial influenced electronic beats was surefire career suicide. It’s almost like Kid A all over again, a comparison I’m sure will gain me a lot of friends. But who cares, it sounds good to me, I enjoy laughing at and with Kanye when he spits lines about cunnilingus with an asian woman, or ordering a croissant at a fancy restaurant, I also enjoy the music which has a strange infectious quality to it that burrows its way into my brain and never seems to leave. Yeezus may not be perfect, it may not even be objectively good, but it’s an album that I keep coming back to, and one I see myself still spinning in ten years time. — Rob Lowe
13. My Bloody Valentine – m b v
I don’t know about you, but 11 months after its shock, unannounced arrival, I’m still coming to terms with the fact that m b v actually exists. Drawn out over two barren decades, Kevin Shields and company’s third full-length had become something of a hip Chinese Democracy; a record started and sonically rooted in the early ‘90s, finally brought to us via countless lineup alterations, wildly inaccurate deadlines and borderline ridicule from even their most ardent followers. While Axl Rose’s debacle yielded the anticipated shambolic farce, however, m b v was a comeback which emphatically confounded critics and went some way to meeting the hopes of listeners, many of whom were experiencing the first My Bloody Valentine release in their lifetime.
For me, a large part of its success can in fact be attributed to such expectations, which although undoubtedly high also carried a refreshing pinch of realism. Clearly, no one was banking on a repeat of Loveless, but there was also an understanding that the record’s stop-start recording could make for uneven listening, and even fears that Shields could be biting off more than he could chew, if claims of a new drum and bass direction were to be believed.
Thankfully, though, from the moment those first strands of mangled distortion tickled our eardrums, it became obvious this record was a logical, if somewhat delayed, continuation as opposed to an ill-advised pursuit of modernism. Indeed, with the likes of “Only Tomorrow” and “Wonder 2,” Shields once more proved himself peerless in the art of sourcing beauty in harsh, tinnitus-inducing fuzz, while the baggy bass stomp of “New You” and the novelty it brings confirmed the LP to be far more than a capsule in time. An impressive achievement no matter the context, it’s unfortunate, albeit understandable that the clamour surrounding m b v’s release has somewhat overshadowed its outstanding quality. — AliW1993
12. Kayo Dot – Hubardo
With Hubardo, Kayo Dot have released yet another piece of art that transcends the boundaries of metal by striving for something more. This dense album effortlessly blends a wide array of styles and sounds into a cohesive, manic whole, and the result is as complex and multifaceted as it is unforgettable.
These songs are storms, building and releasing energy in furious, chaotic patterns, and leaving grey silences in their wake. The inventiveness and variety on display here borders on overwhelming times, but the band manages to keep the listener immersed thanks to the pervading atmosphere and their sheer enthusiasm.
Hubardo is a mammoth of an album that demands dozens of plays, and which rewards them all in full. It also has the best-used sax you’re bound to hear on a heavy album. — Nathan Derr (CaptWaffles)
11. James Blake – Overgrown
The rain fell hard on Ann Arbor, Michigan on November 11th 2013. It wasn’t a typical Michigan storm, a couple hours of moderately inconvenient sheets, but a bona fide squall, the kind that made me question whether the six minute walk to class was worth it. James Blake was playing at the nearby Michigan Theater and a scalper was offering tickets in a Facebook group. I sought input from others- is this show really worth it?- but ultimately, it took me stepping into the oppressive torrent and dialing up “Overgrown” on my iPod to get the answer: I had to go.
My lowball offer of $25 offended the seller so I didn’t end up seeing James Blake that grey Monday, but I still think back to that day when I play the album. James Blake whispers to us in different ways, through the currents of production and vocal loops. When my friend’s parents were dividing up their assets during a protracted divorce, “I Never Learnt to Share” was his theme song; “Limit to Your Love” was the score to another’s smoke sessions he’d have with his girlfriend. For myself, and I’m sure countless others, Overgrown gave me an overwhelming sense of peace, even when surrounded by the currents of students moving in and out of buildings, rainwater rushing down the unnecessarily sloped sidewalks. In the middle of the commotion, here was James Blake, a solid pillar whose vibes cut through the weather and gave me a moment of clarity as I walked on the Diag, careful to avoid the golden ‘M’ in the center.
Like any great piece of physical art, James Blake’s music makes you take pause and consider everything in it. Not just the main loop, like I’m so apt to do, but everything swirling behind him. The screaming synthesizers on opening track “Overgrown,” the claps maintaining the rhythm of vocal showcase “Retrograde,” these are the things Blake wants you to notice without being too pushy or obvious. He is a master of structure and composition and these subtle asides drive the point home: it’s not about the words; what matters is what happens around him. As such, Overgrown is best enjoyed with gallery silence, perhaps with the rain gently pattering against the window pain, another background element that says more than Blake does. — Nathan Flynn