11. Black Sabbath - '13' (Vertigo)
13 is a brilliant return to form and finds Sabbath more cohesive than ever. The combination of Tony Iommi’s riffs, Butler’s lyrics and Ozzy’s one of a kind voice and melodies is astounding. Ozzy might not have the range he once had, but his voice is captured perfectly by producer Rick Rubin as it's emotional, compelling and the best he has sounded since his 1995 solo record Ozzmosis. No Auto-Tune or over processed vocals that Ozzy has been relying on for his past few solo records is to be found.
This is not only the most anticipated album of the year, but of the last 35. If one isn’t a fan of this record, I just can’t see them ever being a fan of the original eight records. If this is indeed the end, then 13 is the perfect exclamation point on a career that is untouchable.
10. Clutch - 'Earth Rocker' (Weathermaker)
Over the last couple of releases, Clutch took the dusty road down to the Delta and rejoiced in the bluesy origins of rock music. But while the blues are ingrained in every musical juke and jive as well as Fallon’s characteristic vocals, Earth Rocker has more in common with the unstoppable rock ‘n’ roll landslide that was 2004’s Blast Tyrant. And like this record, there is a perfect fire lit under each one of Clutch’s power players, and because of the upsurge in energy, the overall pace of Earth Rocker is electric.
There must be high octane in the waters of Maryland, as there is clearly something other than pure rock fury fueling these perennial road-dogs at this stage in their lives. Let’s be thankful for whatever is driving this band forward, because it sure as hell makes Earth Rocker kick harder than a mule on steroids and, consequently, makes Clutch the best rock ‘n’ roll band around.
9. Deafheaven - 'Sunbather' (Deathwish)
San Francisco’s Deafheaven are one of black metal’s new leading lights, trailblazing a path away from the genre’s doldrums. Sunbather, the follow up to their incandescent 2011 debut Roads to Judah, takes black metal into places unimaginable. The coals of their fiery sound are mined from the dark caves of swirling shoegaze, Emperor and Alcest. Through the smoky despair, passionately lush guitars and extreme metal vocals shriek over the furnaces of melody and madness.
Sunbather’s emotions sheet down like a razor blade rain. George Clarke sings as if each blade slices open the infected wounds of his soul. Deafheaven deftly alternate between churning guitar storms and stretches of gut-wrenching vocals.
8. Cult Of Luna - 'Vertikal' (Density)
Cult of Luna have consistently delivered exciting, abrasive music on a regular basis, to the point where their continued greatness has come to be almost expected. Vertikal, however, thrums and vibrates with a new life and presents a remarkable progression of textures, from light and ethereal ambient moments to vast and crushing crescendos.
Vertikal is a challenging and extraordinary album, complex and aching. Like a great city that is also a machine, it has moments of great beauty, technical wonder and a deep, gaping pit of cost and loss. Cult of Luna have created a wondrous musical engine.
7. VHOL 'Vhol' (Profound Lore)
At its core, Vhol is predominantly a black metal album but it’s not as grim as all that. An infusion of punk rock attitude takes it to a different place. The rise and fall of tremolos are joined by the looseness and reckless abandon of old school punk. The rebellious spirit of black metal and punk are the lifeblood of the album, pumping that energy forth from start to glorious finish. Most tracks take on their own feel between the two genres while integrating each other, as well as classic rock and early thrash.
Vhol is a most satisfying coalescence of four inarguable talents into an entity that feels stripped down to the primal level yet is far more expansive than it appears. Craft beer may sour as it ages beyond a certain point but this is not the case with Vhol. It’s more like wine, getting better as time wears on, each taste surpassing the last. One can only hope that this isn’t a limited edition and VHOL have only just begun.
6. Batillus - 'Concrete Sustain' (Seventh Rule)
Concrete Sustain is a powerful and intense doom record with enough industrial touch to make it stand out amidst the hordes of doom bands blindly basing albums solely on tone. While Batillus do utilize the destructive power of sonics and monumental riffs to enrapture the listener with dense reverberations, the added layers construct an intangible nuance to make it a deep hearted experience.
Concrete Sustain filters the hard edged and bleak urban landscape through heartfelt and meaningful industro-doom, cementing Batillus near the top of the heap. Put on your best heavy-lidded scowl and prepare to sustain and dominate.
5. The Ocean - 'Pelagial' (Metal Blade)
Conceptually crafting a record about the different oceanic levels has not only led Germany’s The Ocean to record their best record, but also releasing what is sure to be one of the best metal releases of 2013. Pelagial, the band’s fifth album, is a stunning collection of ideas and emotions conceptually based on the Andrey Tarkovsky film Stalker.
What starts out with a subtle piano centered introduction gradually transforms into a cohesive movement – masterfully through extremes – taking the listener on a journey that forms the support of every great record, including this one.
4. Darkthrone - 'The Underground Resistance' (Peaceville)
On The Underground Resistance, punk rock takes the passenger seat, with NWOBHM, proto-metal and European and U.S. power metal wrestling for control of the wheel. As soon as the hurtling first track "Dead Early" kicks off, it's clear Darkthrone have returned with a steely vengeance.
The Underground Resistance is exactly the kind of album you can point non-metal fans toward to explain why we love this genre. It strengthens Darkthrone’s already considerable legacy, and their continuing quest to satisfy their artistic vision while ignoring all external pressures underscores the album’s uproarious appeal.
3. Inquisition - 'Obscure Verses For The Multiverse' (Season Of Mist)
Inquisition's Dagon really is world class, perhaps the best writer of riffs since James Hetfield and Jeff Hanneman. His style is distinctive, the hallmark of not just a good songwriter, but of a unique musician.There’s an ebb and flow to his riffing, a style that seems to slide from the strings, at once melodic, catchy, and punctuated.
Inquisition have masterfully crafted another album in Obscure Verses For The Multiverse that is a more than a worthy follow up to Ominous Doctrines Of The Perpetual Mystical Macrocosm and a strong contender for album of the year.
2. Gorguts - 'Colored Sands' (Season Of Mist)
Colored Sands is the first full-length album from Gorguts in twelve years. Luc Lemay has surrounded himself with a stellar lineup of musicians that consists of Kevin Hufnagel from Dysrhythmia on guitar, Colin Marston from Krallice on bass and John Longstreth from Origin (amongst others) on drums. Needless to say, with this pedigree of musicians in the fold, one would expect nothing short of spectacular.
And, that’s exactly what you get from Colored Sands. But, a word of caution: Colored Sands is NOT straightforward death metal and is even steps removed from both Obscura and From Wisdom To Hate. It is going to challenge the listener, as Lemay undoubtedly feels that his mature audience can handle complicated material.
1. Carcass - 'Surgical Steel' (Nuclear Blast)
Surgical Steel is nothing short of an absolute triumph, and will stand up as one of the best reunion albums ever recorded in aggressive music. It locates itself somewhere between Heartwork and Necroticism: Descanting the Insalubrious in terms of sound and aggression, with artillery-like drumming, martial tempos and snarlingly filthy backup vocals. The sophistication in the song structures is still all there, however, polished and decadent in their richness. There's enough room for Carcass to move around and build something, narratively and emotionally, in each piece, while still cracking with intensity and aggression, like the air before a thunderstorm.
Jeff Walker's lyrics, which draw heavily upon the grim imagery of the Industrial Revolution and its impact on Britain, are delivered with a wry, bloody-minded wittiness and confidence. He and Bill Steer helm the band expertly through the difficult waters of this rebirth, allowing Carcass to sound like themselves, identity wholly intact, only somehow more rich and deep.