My Top 20 Albums of 2013

As we conclude 2013, let us look back on what has become a spectacular year for music. There have been too many great albums to come out this year to list and has made the process of choosing 20 albums extremely difficult. I decided to include a few non-metal albums in this list as well because there were a few really standout albums this year that weren’t metal that deserve to be in my list. Most of these albums I didn’t review earlier, but there should be a few that you may have read this year. I hope you enjoyed the music of 2013 and please feel free to add in your own lists.

 

20. Kurt Vile – Wakin on a Pretty Daze

I went to the same high school as Vile and although I never met him, I knew most of his siblings who were in my grade and in school at the same time. The whole family is extremely gifted in all things artistic and it is so great to see how Kurt has grown as a musician and as a songwriter. This is a great album filled with hauntingly beautiful melodies and expanded song arrangements. This college rock icon just gets bigger and better.

19. Daft Punk – Random Access Memories

Admittedly, I haven’t ever been a real fan of Daft Punk until this very record. This record totally changed my entire perception on the group and thought this was a stellar record. The instrumentation and the sheer driving force of the band behind the techno-driven duo was astonishing and the vocals were highly impressive. Hopefully, their future releases will be as strong as this.

18. Ihsahn – Das Seelenbrechen

I’ve always been a fan os Ihsahn’s work since his time in Emperor and always felt that Ihsahn was the king of Norwegian Black Metal. He simply hasn’t put out any bad records and while I miss the spastic saxophone solos that obliterated the last two albums, Das Seelenbrechen is one of Ihsahn’s strongest releases to date. There is a level of evil to his songs and the overall production of his records that actually frighten me at points, this album bearing no obvious exception.

17. Children of Bodom – Halo of Blood

This is classic Bodom! I enjoyed Reckless Relentless Forever when it came out, but then had to take a step back and admit that the reason it was so popular with me was that it was a much more cohesive album than Blooddrunk was for me. It was still a good album, but now when I try to compare that with Halo of Blood, I’d rather just skip over the last two records and stick with the classic Children of Bodom albums. The songs on this album are killer and it just feels right when I listen to it. It sounds like a band that is back on top and I think that they are now.

16. Born of Osiris – Tomorrow We Die Alive

Another extremely thorough masterpiece by a band that blew the lid off the genre back in 2011 with The Discovery. The production on this album is just as immense as the songwriting has become. There is so much going on that I discover something new with each listen. From the moment the album starts until it stops your mind will be blown. They also win the award for coolest album artwork again.

15. Tesseract – Altered State

For a band that can’t keep a consistent singer in their roster, they’ve been able to release two monstrous albums and two incredibly strong EPs. As far as the new wave of progressive metal goes, I think Tesseract are one of the best and this album is a mammoth testament to that fact. You really go on a trip with this album and the music almost messes with your mind as if it is trying to put you in an altered state.

14. Eminem – Marshall Mathers LP 2

I don’t think anyone would have seen this coming. Eminem had regained his footing with 2010’s Recovery, admitting even in the songs o the album that his career had hit a real slump and something needed to be done about it. While Recovery was very popular, I don’t think anyone expected his next release to be as good as it is. The first Marshal Mathers LP, released in the year 2000, is widely considered to be his greatest album to date, so making this album a sequel means that there are huge expectations set and I believe Eminem met those expectations with this record. I don’t think this album will become more popular than the first, but I still think this album is just about on par with the first Marshall Mathers LP.

13. The Safety Fire – Mouth of Swords

Much like Tesseract, I feel that The Safety Fire are among the best bands in this new wave of progressive metal. However, I don’t think The Safety Fire have gotten all of the recognition they fully deserve because they still aren’t headlining any of their own shows. This is their third album now and it is easily their best effort yet. In fact, the other two albums have incredibly strong and I hope 2014 will allow for The Safety Fire to really become popular and start headlining more shows.

12. Kvelertak – Meir

This is the second release from Norway’s newest sensation. I’ll admit it took me a long time to get into the first record. I almost had the chance to see the band live, which would have no doubt made everything click for me, but nevertheless, I’ve finally started to realize what all the hype is with this band. They’re absolutely magnificent. There are very few bands capable of busting out huge classic-rock riffs with blast-beat driven fits of fury in the manner that Kvelertak present. This is new album hit me instantly and hasn’t stopped being amazing.

11. Stray from the Path – Anonymous

One of the most honest bands that I’ve ever listened to have done it again. This band has managed to package an uncontrollable rage into ferociously good tracks. From start to finish this album repeatedly knocks the listener out and proceeds to kick them while they are on the ground. Following swiftly after Rising Sun, which took them to a whole new level of fame, Anonymous is making damn sure that everyone knows not to fuck with this band or there will surely be hell to pay.

10. Woodkid – The Golden Age

This is the debut album (he had a few EPs beforehand though) from French music video director/graphic artist/singer-songwriter Yoann Lemoine. His music combines huge organ/synth sounds with authentic oriental percussion and small orchestras to produce an epic sound worthy of the silver screen. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Lmoine started composing film scores for some big name films in the next few years. Lemoine’s sound is still very accessible and equally worthy of massive airplay. I’ve seen Lemoine featured on a few Vodka commercials recently, which hopefully means that more people will start to pick up on him in 2014.

9. Protest the Hero – Volition

After all the complications with their label and having to utilize indiegogo to raise funds for this album, one can’t help but look back through everything that has happened to band in 2013 and smile and their success. They had reached their quota for this album budget in 30 hours upon starting their indegogo campaign, and in turn, released a monstrous record. Once again, this band have proved that any obstacle is no match for these progressive giants. The musicians in this band are top-notch and even when they lost their drummer, Chris Adler of Lamb of God fame, came in and tore it up on the new record. I can’t wait to see what 2014 has in store for this band.

8. Queens of the Stone Age – …Like Clockwork

This was my entry point for this band surprisingly enough. They were always a band that I meant to check out, but for whatever reason, didn’t fully explore their back catalog until after I first heard this record and fell in love with it. I was blown away with how tight each individual member was and astounded at the level of songwriting. It all sounds so simple you wish you’d thought of it. Also, every song on this record is an absolute anthem in its own right. Not a single dull moment to be found.

7. Skeletonwitch – Serpents Unleashed

Here’s a death band thrashing it like no one else this year (except for maybe Carcass). Skeletonwitch simply don’t put out bad records, seeing as this is the fourth record of theirs and it is easily on par with Beyond the Permafrost. To me, they combine all the hallmarks of thrash and death metal and package it up with a razor wire bow in the form of their shredding guitars and relentless drums. I also thought this album was a bit of a departure from their previous material, adding a few doom elements to their sound that makes me very curious to see how it will develop from here.

6. The Dillinger Escape Plan – One of Us is the Killer

One of, if not the best release from Sumerian Records this year (except for After the Burial, but we’ll get to them in a minute). Much like how I described Born of Osiris and Stray from the Path, this unyielding album has so much packed into it that you will be discovering new things with each listen. With this album, I think we’ll see this band return to the top of the totem pole and will no doubt dominate every live show they have booked in 2014. These songs are fresh, exciting and unpredictable; much like their live show. I definitely recommend paying attention to this band.

5. Cage the Elephant – Melophobia

This is another album that came out of nowhere for me. I had been a casual fan of their music with the past two albums and enjoyed their live show, but this album completely obliterated all of my previous opinions and assumptions about this band. With this album, we really see a band developing a more mature sound and a more direct approach to their songwriting. They add a random assortment of other instruments on a few notable tracks as they use these instruments to bring the house down. To me, this album is a perfect example of having to take a few steps back in order to leap forward.

4. After the Burial – Wolves Within

While I may have said that the Dillinger Escape Plan record was the best Sumerian Records release of 2013, I have been a huge fan of After the Burial for years, so before I even heard the record I knew it would most likely chart well for me. It’s been 3 years since the last After the Burial album, yet for me it has felt like an eternity. Nevertheless, this new album was worth the wait. The overall sound of this band grew enormously and so have the songs. Again, this is a band that can pack so much into five minutes that will leave your mind reeling. The twin guitar melodies continue to astound me and the rhythm section is equally bombastic with Anthony at the helm, whose vocals have really gotten stronger. I honestly can’t even begin to express how proud I am of this band. Great effort!

3. Letlive – The Blackest Beautiful

This is another band that have built a reputation for being brutally honest and pure to level that I believe has not been matched by any other hardcore band of this generation. I recently saw this band live and noticed that singer Jason Butler had a cast on his arm from a recent surgery, but came out and jumped around as if that cast wasn’t there. It just goes to show you how much this band (and really this entire band) cares about what they do and that they are making the music they want to make. There’s a level of humility and integrity presented in this bands music that just seems so natural to them, but is incredibly hard to generate from any other band that hasn’t fully experienced everything that this band has gone through. A really miraculous album from an absolutely amazing band.

2. Ghost – Infestissumam

Here is another band understanding the important of what a show is these days. Following the steps of the classic shock rock bands like Alice Cooper, Rob Zombie, King Diamond, and Marilyn Manson, Ghost have immersed themselves in an image and have created a mystique that still surrounds them. At the same time, they have two albums that are littered with simple, catchy-as-hell tunes that appeal to a massive audience. They combine the Catholic image and sound and turn it on its ear as they praise Satan and delve into uncomfortable territories (i.e. explicit merchandise). This band is going to go far and continue to enthrall audiences with their devilishly memorable music.

1. Black Sabbath – 13

They started it all and now, after many years apart and involved in other projects, the original Black Sabbath lineup (well almost the complete lineup) have released an absolute masterpiece. With Brad Will of Rage Against the Machine fame filling in on drums for Bill Ward, the band took the music that they created and pioneered in the early 70s and put a modern flair on it, further solidifying why they are the metal gods. Ozzy amazingly, sounds better than ever (which is still so odd to me considering how he can barely speak) and Iommi’s riffs are just as strong as they were forty years ago.  They’ve even been playing a bunch of shows throughout the year while Iommi continues to battle lymphoma. Hopefully the band are still going to go strong and I pray this isn’t their last record.

 

So that’s my list. If any of these bands/albums are foreign to you, then I highly recommend them. This was an incredible year for metal and equally for music in general. I hope 2014 is just as strong. Happy Holidays.

Luke Helker

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One Response to “My Top 20 Albums of 2013”

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