Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Best of 2013: Top 30 - 21

Continuing yesterday's summation of the year, let's take a look at another ten albums.This will take us right to the cusp of the Top 20, which is traditionally as large of a list as I've put together. But since I've listened to so much more music than I typically do, I thought I would put together a larger list. Here we go. These may not have made the Top 20, but they're all well worth your time.

30. Antigama - Meteor

Grindcore is a pretty touchy genre for me. Occasionally, I'll hear something that absolutely captures my attention. Most of the time, I just can't be bothered. The sixth release from Poland's Antigama falls into that occasional category. The tracks are long enough to allow contemplation, but not so long that they exhaust the listener. The three tracks that last over three minutes are that length because they brought the tempos down, not because they tried going full-bore too long. Since gore and splatter themes bore me, outer space was a great place to take grindcore. "Stargate," which intersperses grind blasts with space station sound effects transitions perfectly into "The Signal." Album closer "Untruth" brings listeners back down again with gang vocals and big tom beats. One of the few grind albums that keeps drawing me back.

29. Vreid - Welcome Farewell

Black metal, of course, is well within my regular listening realm. Imagine my surprise when Vreid took their war metal sound in a more black n' roll direction. The result was a band that sounds refreshed and ready to bring black metal forward out of the '90s and into the '10s."The Ramble" and "The Reap" are stand-outs in this new directions, while more traditional tracks like "Way of the Serpent" and "Sights of Old" assure listeners that Vreid still knows how to put Norwegian defiance into song. "Black Waves" brings some grumbled clean vocals into the mixing pot, and "At the Brook" has strummed guitars—I'd love to see Vreid put these elements all together and do their own take on the black metal ballad. Welcome Farewell had the misfortune to come out in February, and so was quickly overwhelmed by the albums at the top of my list. If it had come out in May or June, perhaps I would have given it more time.

28. Satyricon - Satyricon

Speaking of black metal ballads, Satyricon has one, and it's even better than "They Rode On." "Phoenix" has a Goth Rock feel to it that meshes quite well with black metal. The entire album has a depressed, almost lackadaisical feeling to it, which may sound horrible, but I find to be a nice change from the phoned-in riffs of Age of Nero. For the most part, Frost isn't playing fast blasts here—you'll need to listen to 1349 for the real fury these days—but "Walker Upon the Winds" is a highlight for those who like it fast. Where Satyricon really excels, though, is when it takes things into a moody place with the aformentioned "Phoenix," "The Infinity of Time and Space," and "Tro Og Kraft."

27. Soilwork - The Living Infinite

I will admit that The Living Infinite is too long. If it had been trimmed down to size, it probably could have made my Top 20. But despite having some dull moments, it also has some of the  best riffs that Soilwork has ever written. Album opener "Spectrum of Eternity" absolutely clobbers, with speed, catchy hooks, and a string section that reminds me of the old BBC The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. So wins all around there. The album continues to dish the melo-death with songs like "This Momentary Bliss," the "Living Infinite" (I and II) and "Rise Above the Sentiment." Disk One gets more spins from me than Disk Two, and I hope that Soilwork practices a little more self-restraint in the future. But after a disappointing few years, it's nice to hear the band excelling again.

26. Ihsahn - Das Seelenbrechen

I'm not sure when Ihsahn got the idea that the best way to make an album cover was to give it a difficult to pronounce name and then scramble the letters up on a black and white image. He's wrong about that. Musically, however, he's still one of my favourite progressive metal artists. Ihsahn is a master of syncopation and counterpoint. The pieces he writes fit together like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle, even when he explores the less extreme realms of metal. The album has more in common with Peccatum than with Emperor. The epic "Regen" is a personal favourite and I still have to dive further in to the electronically brutalized second half. Were we ready for a new Ihsahn album? Probably not. I'm still listening to Eremita (shit, I'm still listening to After) and so haven't given Das Seelenbrechen nearly the attention it deserves. But it does deserve your attention. Ihsahn has never repeated himself, which is more than most artists can say.

25. Inquisition - Obscure Verses for the Multiverse

Speaking of repeating yourself, Inquisition's highly regarded 2013 release has a major problem, and that problem is a little album called Ominous Doctrines of the Perpetual Mystical Macrocosm. The greatest duo in US black metal, Inquisition are known for their riffs, their riffs, and their riffs. Also for Dagon's frog-croak vocals, but mostly that other thing. And this album has them. It has them in abundance, and Incubus beats the skins in a non-stop frenzy. Bass guitars? Don't need 'em. This is black metal, people. Anti-cosmic Satanic mysticism provides lyrical fodder and this is the second Paolo Girardi cover to appear on my list. The thing is, as good as Obscure Verses is, it mostly just makes me want to listen to Ominous Doctrines, from which it borrows a number of riffs. If the other album didn't exist, Inquisition would probably have made my Top 5. But why drink inferior wine when you have an unlimited supply of a superior vintage?

24. Voices - From the Human Forest Create a Fugue of Imaginary Rain

Winning the award for the most cumbersome album title of the year (at least in music that I would actually want to listen to), Voices is the  new blackened death project from a number of former members of Akercocke. It's furious, messy, and delicious. The album mixes up vocal styles and the black/death balance to keep things interesting—"Eyes Become Black," "This Too Shall Pass," and "Everything You Believe Is Wrong" are songs I keep coming back to. Unfortunately, I think that "Sexual Isolation" misses the mark in striving for the rarefied air occupied by "Shelter From the Sand," but this first outing by Voices is a powerful one. I for one hope that the band has a strong future ahead of them.

23. Saor - Roots

When I first heard this album, the band was named Àrsaidh, but a month later they changed their name to Saor because they had grown tired of people not being able to pronounce their name. Well, guess what, guys. I still am not sure that I'm pronouncing your name right. That silliness aside, the music is damn good. Usually when you think of a one-man black metal project, you think of the ultra-depressive suicidal projects like Xasthur or the ultra-controversial projects like Burzum. Saor hails from Scotland and plays triumphant folk music. Roots is only three long songs plus an interlude, but the combination of beautiful beautifully played flutes, bagpipes, and strings (it's unclear what is sampled and what is played live, that's how good it is) with melodic arpeggiated guitars and tom-heavy tribal drumming make each song an immersive experience. I listened to a lot of bands trying to do Scottish folk metal this year. Saor gets it right.

22. Woe - Withdrawal

Withdrawal is Woe's second full-length as a quartet, and follows the black n' roll trend that seems to be sweeping the metal world lately. I mean, it's still clearly black metal. Opener "This is the End of the Story" has a great blast/tremolo passage that always gets stuck in my head for days. "Song of My Undoing" is the weirdest song here, and probably one of the most hated. But I love it. "All Bridges Burned" segues clean guitar strumming right into shredding tremolos while "Exhausted" draws on some hardcore influence. Withdrawal has a nice mix of styles with a constant raw guitar sound that pays homage to those lo-fi days of metal. The clean vocals aren't nearly as strong here as they are on Satyricon, so the band might want to tone that down in the future. But I think this is an album that has been unwisely passed over simply because it's not as strong as their last masterpiece. I'm still waiting for the acoustic album Loudly, Dramatically, though.

21. Domovoyd - Oh, Sensibility

Drugs, okay? I don't do them myself, but this album was obviously written for those that do by those who have. The cover art disturbs me, but the music inside is entrancing. This is droning fuzzy doom from Finland. I mean, where else? Together with Oranssi Pazuzu and their absolutely incomprehensible language, Domovoyd has convinced me that Finland isn't actually inhabited by normal human beings. And that's totally cool. Whenever I want to have an altered reality experience, I put on Finnish music. Seriously, though, if you like stoner doom, psychedelic doom, doom with swans, or any kind of bizarre out-of-the-ordinary experiences, you need Domovoyd in your life. Nasty prisms, good sir.

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