Don’t make yourself wait!
2013 is the first year I paid for a subscription to a music streaming service and this allowed me to hear more new music than I have in years. That means that this year’s list was very difficult. Following is my favorite albums of the year in ascending order.
I saw Colin Stetson perform a few pieces during a Broken Social Scene concert and left very impressed with his performance. Play this album for a friend and they may not even believe that this music is created with saxophone. These atmospheric pieces somewhat recall the thick sound of the self-titled Bon Iver album but have a stronger spirit of exploration and about 90% less vocals. That may sound pretty ambient and, well, it’s at least very atmospheric. Good stuff.
19. Autre Ne Veut: Anxiety
I am not really a fan of R&B music, if that really is what this should be categorized as but powerful music is powerful music. These songs are catchy and complex. Soulful vocals and slick accompaniments make for a listen that is enjoyable to the max.
18. Miyazaki: Color of Glass
Hey guys, do you like that band The Magnetic Fields? Do you feel like their last release was a bit lacking. I mean, sure, we were all excited to dive back into the electronic sound of their earlier work but the songs were not up to snuff. This new album by Miyazaki will probably be very satisfying for you. The singer even sounds strikingly like Stephen Merritt. The 80’s influenced sound will appease your inner-hipster from a couple of years ago… Seriously, good songs though.
17. Eleanor Friedberger: Personal Record
I hear that many people do not like the Fiery Furnaces but I do. If you do not… you probably won’t like this record so skip ahead. If you do, you may have noticed as the Friedberger siblings have each released a few post-Furnaces solo albums that Matthew Friedberger was the more experimental member of the group. Eleanor’s records are more pop-song oriented except for the fact that she has really dense and involved lyrics. I love that diction.
16. Telekenesis: Dormarion
I have never listened to Telekenesis before this album. Am I right in thinking I heard somewhere that there is some sort of connection to Spoon? I thought so… Anyway these are nice, catchy little garage rock songs with nice energy. It seems I get into at least one album like this each year. I love the fairly lo-fi production and the dynamics of many of the songs; I also enjoy the subtle keyboard lines though I have seen this listed as a negative on some reviews. Perhaps I would feel different if this wasn’t my first Telekenesis experience but it isn’t so I don’t.
15. Moonface: Julia With Blue Jeans On
I don’t really like Wolf Parade too much but the songs I like are exclusively Spencer numbers. I do really like Sunset Rubdown and those songs are all Spencer numbers. This is the first Moonface album I have really liked but the other ones seemed more like experiments than actual albums (at least from my brief exposure to them). This is an album… an album with a series of songs with a unifying sound (piano and harrowing-Spencer vocals) and lyrical themes (break-ups and break-downs). This is my first dose of Spencer Krug in some time and I didn’t realize how much I was craving it until I pushed play. The songs are everything you expect, lyrically dense, intensely performed and darn catchy; they are also some things you maybe didn’t expect: very personal and heartfelt.
14. The Flaming Lips: The Terror
The Flaming Lips are a band whose every release is worth some serious listening time. I have enjoyed nearly all of their albums and their last few albums (Embryonic and Heady Fwends) have actually grown much richer as they have matured. I expect The Terror will be no different in that I will give it a lot more listening time and the songs will become more nuanced and awesome but even with only a small amount of experience, it is obvious that this is an album that means business. These songs are… terrifying and awe-inspiring and truly alive.
13. Julianna Barwick: Nepenthe
When I first heard this album, I was struck by how much it reminded me of Sigur Ros and Amiina but then I realized that it was recorded with the aide of Sigur Ros in Iceland and it all made sense. These are not songs so much as sound-sculptures which wrap around the listener and transport him or her to an ethereal world which unfortunately only exists in Julianna Barwick’s mind. Luckily for us, she gave us away to visit whenever we want! Just push play.
12. Chelsea Wolfe: Pain is Beauty
This is my first experience with a Chelsea Wolfe album and I love the drama present in her music. Her vocals are not overly-showy but when they are placed in the gothic visions created on this album, they feel soaring and operatic. Wouldn’t it be kinda cool if she collaborated with the girl from My Brightest Diamond? I know the sensibilities are pretty different but I think their sounds could compliment each other. Anyway that isn’t really a reason to like this album… if you like listening to music that sounds dark and dramatic in the evenings, this is a great selection. It is like if that 90’s band Curve was jamming with the Seventeen Seconds-era of the Cure but way better than that might be.
11. Julia Holter: Loud City Song
These songs are really beautiful. Striking vocals and incredible orchestral arrangements that are as varied as they are accomplished. Apparently the album is a re-telling of the musical Gigi but I know nothing about that and it does not at all hurt the experience of this magnificent recording. These songs all sounds like they are floating somewhere between the dream-world and the real-world but they are tangible… you can reach out and touch them; you can climb into them. It is like dream-pop, meets jazz meets Pet Sounds. This is one of the most striking and thrilling albums of the year and I recommend it to anyone who isn’t afraid of a little bit of sonic experimentation.
10. Tea Leaf Green: In the Wake
I know it is not safe to admit this in some social circles but I often enjoy some good american rock jam banding. That is to say that I readily admit to liking the Grateful Dead (not just American Beauty and Workinman’s Dead) and Phish. I am pretty far from the neo-hippie sub-culture that is usually associated with these acts but I enjoy them nonetheless (by the way, regardless of whether you like Phish or not you should listen to Analyze Phish on the Earwolf Podcast network because it is hilarious). Anyway all that is to say that I was not afraid to dive into an album by an admitted jam band who I have never heard of and in this case that was a great move. Now this band sounds nothing like Phish… they have sort of an early 70s rock sound. That’s right, none of these songs are particularly new sounding but they have a really enjoyable classic American rock sound that just grooves really well. The singer’s voice has a lot of personality and the songs are actually songs… not just excuses to solo. While it is a studio album (the Achilles heel of most jam bands) these songs stretch out just enough to satisfy but not too much to frustrate. This is a great album to grab and play while getting work done, driving or otherwise being awesome. It is fun, satisfying and nostalgic enough without seeming like a put-on. I have gotten a lot of enjoyment out of this album in 2013 and I think it is worth checking out. Put your reservations on hold and give it a go.
9. Buke & Gase: General Dome
I have never heard Buke & Gase before this release but as soon as I heard it, I knew it was something special. The songs are slightly disjointed and minimal in a way that recalls certain albums by Deerhoof. I love this because it allows you to hear all of the separate elements of the music magically coalesce into an unlikely sound. My favorite thing about this album is that it is so much fun, the songs sound joyful and it seems like the musicians reveled in trying whatever ideas came into their head because of this some of the songs seem to be deconstructing even as they are happening and I find it thrilling. This album makes me feel very happy and hopefully it will have the same effect on you.
8. Oneohtrix Point Never: R Plus Seven
I don’t really know what to say about this album that hasn’t already been said better. I have liked each of Oneohtrix Point Never’s album and this seems to be the best yet. I love listening to the songs and being surprised by the unexpected ways in which they unfurl. A lot of people say a lot of things about how these songs use old computer software instruments but I am not sure if this really matters or not… I mean, sure, it obviously shapes what you are hearing but does it really change your reaction to it? I could come up with whatever idea I wanted and the music could still suck but whenever OPN does this, it never feels like a gimmick, just a natural part of the music that is created. These songs wouldn’t exist without these samples but the samples would clearly exist without the songs… I think I lost my own train of thought but this album allows your mind the chance to wander before it snaps you right back to reality (or something strikingly similar). Take the opening track, Boring Angel, for instance, it really seems to oscillate like the ripples from a stone hitting a pond but why do the ripples keep changing shape and speed? It’s hard to fully understand yet strangely transfixing.
7. The National: Trouble Will Find Me
I will admit that I didn’t fully ‘get’ the National until High Violet was released but that album immediately grabbed my attention for being awesome and once I got into it, the other albums became instantly more accessible and enjoyable. I believe that the songs on Trouble Will Find Me are so good that even without this experience, it would still be very high on this, my year-end list. I love the consistency of sound on this album, it really establishes a mood (dreary but slightly hopeful) and sticks to it. My fiancee and I saw The National play at a music festival in Ohio over the summer and the songs which are fairly insular on the recording develop a seriously anthemic quality when played live. The song-writing, as usual, is top-notch and the band is more than willing to try new sounds and techniques on each track. Songs switch tempo, instrumentation and texture wildly but still all sound of a piece and this is an achievement that more bands have failed at than not.
6. Sigur Ros: Kveikur
I am always reading about how intense this album sounds compared to many Sigur Ros records but Sigur Ros has always been intense. Actually my favorite thing about albums such as ( ) is that they sound gentle and peaceful when the volume is low but soaring and violent as the volume in increased. You can choose how you want to hear it but turning a knob (or, I suppose, pushing a button). This album has the same quality, it can shape your mood while responding to it. Kveikur is classic Sigur Ros and while the songs may sound a bit darker, this element has always been present in their music. There truly is no other band with either the restraint or power that Sigur Ros displays on nearly every album. I attended a show on the tour for this recording and it was one of my all-time favorite live experiences. The song seemed invigorated and passionate about what they were playing. I do not think there is any other band like Sigur Ros and it seems likely that there never will be.
5. Yo La Tengo: Fade
I am a big Yo La Tengo fan and have been for a long time. I never fully got into their last album but I was still extremely excited for this release and it did not disappoint. I love that this album is so song-oriented and does not get too lost in the ambiance that plagued side-2 of Popular Songs. Fade is one of those albums that is compulsively listenable. Try to listen to just one song and you will find yourself listening to the entire album every time. The songs are laid-back without drifting into the background. They are content without seeming self-satisfied. They are slightly down-trodden without any sign of depression. They are quintessential Yo La Tengo. The simple addition of the strings and horns in some of the songs here feels like a revelation. Strings and horns are not really new to Yo La Tengo but I feel that their presence on older albums tended to dominate the songs which they were on and that is not at all true with Fade. The supporting instrumentation acts as just exactly that, a support for the beautifully simple drums, bass, guitar and vocals combo that is Ira, Georgia and James. Obviously, Yo La Tengo have played countless styles and genres of music but these are songs as only Yo La Tengo can write and perform them. I was fortunate enough to see them play more than once in support of this album and they never disappoint. Fade is one of my new favorite albums by one of my old favorite bands and it may be one of their best.
4. Low: The Invisible Way
I have had a long up and down relationship with Low. It seems I either love their album (Things We Lost in the Fire) or find them pretty forgettable (Drums and Guns) but this one is a stunner. It feels like they are leaning towards their earlier and more simplistic sound and this is a good thing. They seemed to start learning in this direction on their previous album C’mon but that album didn’t have the songs that this one does. Do not mistake the word simple as a slight because these songs are rich and well composed. The expanded instrumentation and production that we saw in the mid-aughts seems to have had a powerful influence on their song writing. Even though the songs are simple they never feel sparse, the spaces are filled with warm tones which almost feel like church songs to me. Many of the songs are actually very uplifting and I love the feeling I get when I listen to this album. My favorite moments in Low are when Alan and Mimi are singing together and this album is full of those moments. There is little else like it and I am so glad to have gotten more of it this year.
3. My Bloody Valentine: mbv
What can I say about this album other than “wow”. I did not at all suspect that I would ever get to hear this and even though I purchased it as soon as it was announced, I still did not at all think it would be good. Why shouldn’t it have been a disaster? Our hopes were so high. We had waited so long. The band’s legacy had grown to mythic proportions but here it is and it is incredible. M B V feels exactly like a My Bloody Valentine album and nothing else. It is not old My Bloody Valentine but I do not mean that as a derision, Kevin Shields is still trying new things and isn’t attempting to just capitalize on the success of Loveless. This statement seems obvious when you consider how long it took him to complete the album but wow… I just did not expect this to ever happen. Wow.
2. The Men: New Moon
A few years ago, I dismissed The Men as part of the sloppy garage revival that was going on in the wake of bands like Wavves but this year I was listening to a lot of IRS-era R.E.M. when this album started showing up in radio-stations on the music streaming service I subscribed to. Song by song I was sold on their rock and roll, garage, country and punk-hybrid of a sound. Song by song is the way to do it because these songs are great as just that. You could slip any of these songs onto a mix and it would stand on its own but taken all together as an album the songs work together to build an ethos. The Men are a really talented band with a great love of music and an obvious appreciation for many great bands that came before them. I hear elements of R.E.M., Husker Du, Dinosaur Jr. and the Replacements but The Men make it their own. The album varies wildly in sound: it opens with a relaxed folk/pop/country tune and ends with an amazing long-form psych-rock jam called Super Moon. Reportedly the album was recorded in 9 days and in those 9 days, The Men captured 46 minutes that represent a huge portion of what I love about music. It has been a long time since I was so excited by an album by a new (to me) band but the Men have done it and I can’t wait to hear what happens next.
1. Grouper: The Man Who Died on His Boat
Every once in awhile an album comes around that feels brand new to me. Kid A was one of these albums and so is The Man Who Died in His Boat. I am well aware that this sort of thing has been done before by many different people, but there is something special about this album by Grouper. For one thing, I love the way that Grouper uses droning, repeated sounds. In the hands of many artists, these sounds become disorienting, hypnotic, trippy or building in intensity but Grouper’s little loops of vocal and instrument feels airy, earthy and comforting. Each song feels like a reassurance. I really do not know what Liz Harris is saying lyrically in these songs but her vocals take on the quality of a mantra and become meditative in nature. This album is extremely evocative of something seemingly just out of reach and I think it is memory. These songs evoke the gentle wondering and wanderings of childhood but they sound as if they are hovering at the other end of a tunnel which never quite ends. It feels like calling an old friend on the phone and talking to them about something that happened when you were 10 years old as if it was still going on. You are each transported back to the moment and you relive it briefly before you reflect on it through older eyes. There is a happiness (and a slight sadness) in those conversations which cannot be captured by anything else, well, anything else but this album by Grouper. I think I have listened to this more times than any other record this year and that is because I love the way it makes me feel. I guess music is all about feeling and Groupers music couldn’t be described as anything else. The music of Grouper is feeling.
If the list continued, these would have made the cut. Check them out.Honorable Mentions:
21. Boards of Canada: Tomorrow’s Harvest
22. Body/Head: Coming Apart
23. The Knife: Shaking the Habitual
24. Waxahatchee: Cerulean Salt
25. Arcade Fire: Reflektor
26. The Ocean: Palagial
27. Jason Isbell: Southeastern
28. DJ Koze: Amygdala
29. Cold War Kids: Dear Miss Lonelyhearts
30. Mwahaha: Mwahaha
Top 20 Non-Metal Albums of 2013:
20. Lovesliescrushing – Ghost Colored Halo
Their first proper album since their incredible sophomore release, Xuvetyn, Lovesliescrushing deliver another spectacularly distorted and ethereally drenched monster.
19. Chelsea Wolfe – Pain Is Beauty
The third LP from Ms. Wolfe was brought to my attention by Chris and I loved it from the moment the drums hit and roll on the opening track, “Feral Love.” From there on it only gets better.
18. Thee Oh Sees – Floating Coffin
I’ve been a fan of Thee Oh Sees’ haunted form of jagged rock and roll since their album Help. The band and their music has never been this fully realized or packed with this many catchy tunes.
17. Popstrangers – Antipodes
“Heaven,” was the catching point, from there I fell into the wonderful debut from this talented New Zealand band. Drawing similarities to the regions elite, like Tame Impala and Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Popstrangers also draw influence from early 90’s indie rock. Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr., and My Bloody Valentine can be heard in these songs. The rest of the album is just as strong, but “Heaven” is certainly the stand out single, and one of the best songs of the year.
16. Fuck Buttons – Slow Focus
Fuck Buttons have done what I had hoped they would do, they have made an album filled with epic songs, like “Olympians” on their previous release. Unfortunately, the brash, uncompromising noise rock of their past has been seemingly weeded out in the process, which is somewhat disheartening. Nonetheless, this is an album filled with great, epic songs.
15. Grouper – The Man Who Died In His Boat
Another album introduced to me by Chris, and another that immediately caught my attention. “Towers” is the song that hooked me, another contender for song of the year. The crushing beauty of this album is coupled with a warm sense of loneliness that floats in and out of the songs, bringing the warmth at times and then leaving the cold devastation to settle in comfortably.
14. The Haxan Cloak – Excavation
Excavation was my first introduction to The Haxan Cloak. The album deals with events that take place after death. It’s dark, ominous, and unforgiving. There doesn’t seem to be any light shining, nothing providing warmth, until the opening five minutes of the closing song, “The Drop,” which eventually drift back into the unsettling atmosphere that permeates throughout the album.
13. The National – Trouble Will Find Me
The National have been slowly creating a powerful yet unassuming discography that continues with Trouble Will Find Me. TWFM not only continues this trend but they expound upon it. The songs are more precise and winding, they’re not so much confident as they are comfortable.
12. Arcade Fire – Reflektor
The ambitious fourth album from Arcade Fire is a double album, produced by James Murphy of the defunct outfit LCD Soundsystem. It has drawn comparisons to Remain In Light and Sandinista!, which are applicable comparisons, by the Talking Heads and The Clash respectively. Arcade Fire branch out and experiment with Haitian rara music and in effect create another masterpiece to add to their growing collection.
11. Julianna Barwick – Nepenthe
Nepenthe, the sophomore release from the burgeoning ambient specialist Julianna Barwick, is an incredible stride forward. Recorded by Jonsi and Alex Sommers in their icelandic studio, which is home to Sigur Ros, Ms. Barwick crafts beautiful songs consisting mostly of her voice layered upon itself, this process brings a very powerful heaven-like soundscape to mind. This time around she adds more actual instruments which ratchet up the songs naturally beautiful qualities even more.
10. The Field – Cupid’s Head
The Field operate within a repetitious world. Songs develop at a slow rate, gradually shifting and morphing into a greater, more encompassing whole that can be distinguished by the listener upon reaching the end of the song. From Here We Go Sublime established this style as well as The Field’s strange place and relationship in ambient music’s pantheon. Cupid’s Head is the first album to feature a dramatic shift in the process of composition. Changes are made in these songs, and they are immediately recognized. It’s a brilliant display and the greatest work to date for the seasoned artist in control.
9. Eluvium – Nightmare Ending
I fell in love with Eluvium through Lambent Material, one of my favorite ambient albums of all time. Matthew Robert Cooper, the man behind the moniker, has since then released albums worthy of the same praise, including the masterpiece, Copia. He returns to form with a double album that is just as moving as the rest of his catalog, in fact, Nightmare Ending can be seen as a sort of culmination of the different styles he’s produced in the past. Soft melancholic piano pieces, airy drones, and the building, elevating crescendos can all be found here.
8. Autre Ne Veut – Anxiety
Some albums are so meticulously arranged that they become something to marvel at, whether or not you’re considering the genre at hand. Some albums are so catchy and enjoyable that they force the listeners ear to bend. Some albums have a quality to them that is strange to identify, a strange quality that is hard to place or understand what makes it so strange. Then there are some albums that have all of these qualities and you can only sit back and let it wash over you, waiting for it to be done so you can play it all again. Anxiety is one of these albums.
7. The Knife – Shaking The Habitual
The Knife have always had an uneasy feeling to them, a push and pull physicality to the music that forces the listener to feel slightly uncomfortable and yet intrigued. None of their work has produced this effect more than Shaking. This double album is hard to listen to sometimes, which may hinder it in some aspects. I believe this challenge is what makes it great. Music isn’t always easy, it isn’t always fun, or necessarily enjoyable, sometimes music exists to serve another purpose, to free you of prescribed expectations stilted on lackadaisical pacifications. Let The Knife grind, jilt, askew, screech, scratch, and stretch your boundaries.
6. Mikal Cronin – MCll
This album was the soundtrack to my summer this year. Mikal Cronin has stepped out from the shadow of Ty Segall and planted his feet in the spotlight. MCll is an incredibly catchy, upbeat, and forceful garage rock album. There isn’t a bad song on this album. Starting with “The Weight”, another contender for song of the year, the album then moves on to “Shout It Out”, that’s two songs in contention. The album continues to provide great songs; the energy dips, dives, and coasts providing for a lovely ride.
5. My Bloody Valentine – MBV
What is there left to be said? The world had been waiting for Kevin Shields and company to provide the follow up to possibly, in my humbled opinion, the greatest album ever made, Loveless. After twenty-two years, what are the results? It’s not Loveless. Nothing can compare to Loveless. So, don’t compare it? MBV is fantastic. I think I was so happy to have new My Bloody Valentine music that the first ten to fifteen listens, the day it completed downloading, were lost in the excitement. Now, at the end of the year, it’s still putting a smile on my face and proving to be an incredible album.
4. Boards Of Canada – Tomorrow’s Harvest
Boards of Canada step away from the lighter, dreamier, more relaxed atmosphere of The Campfire Headphase and embark for darker, colder, and more haunted locations. Creatures conjured by the Scottish brothers stalk the windswept terrain of the moors, some lumbering around aimlessly, some drifting waif-like apparitions, while others slyly traverse with a premeditated sense of urgency. It’s a world scored by horror film tension and metaphysical contemplation, somewhere between the frightening exploration of both unknowns.
3. Tim Hecker – Virgins
Harmony In Ultraviolet is one of my favorite ambient albums of all time. Hecker has a way of bringing beautiful tones and fragmented melodies to a table where he slices them into geometrical shapes, covers them in static, and runs them through an oven at 450 degrees. Familiarity, distorted and crushed, reassembled and reintroduced as an alien warmth, something that feels good despite not being able to understand why it does. Virgins protects Hecker’s seat atop of the ambient genre.
2. Sigur Ros – Kveikur
It’s known that Sigur Ros is one of my favorite bands of all time. I’ve mentioned it on numerous occasions on this site. Valtari made it on my list for 2012, and in an unprecedented event, Sigur Ros has released an album within a year of their previous release. Kveikur is what some would call a departure from the trajectory that they set with the aforementioned release. Valtari was a plodding, rolling, and a heavily more ambient affair. Kveikur is a volcanic eruption in comparison; it is a spastic, soaring, crunching, and epic statement. Maybe it was the departure of longtime bandmate and multi-instrumentalist, Kjartan, or maybe it was a rebirth short on the heels of disbandment rumors, whatever the cause or reason for the release of this album is, doesn’t matter. What’s important is that this album is best release since Takk, and it deserves the second best non-metal album of the year spot.
1. Oneohtrix Point Never – R Plus 7
There was no other album this year that came close to the perfection that was achieved with this release. Daniel Lopatin has created something so special, unique, complex, beautiful, and challenging that the competition didn’t even have a chance. This is when music, or an album in particular, ceases to be pigeonholed into one form of art and becomes one of those rare pieces of art, a transformation into that which could be culled from the abstract, this is art, no longer music. It shifts direction like the curves and crevasses of a beautiful sculpture. It flows organically like the mixture of paint specifically arranged and formed on canvas. It’s written from the lines of the greatest poetry, constructed and contemplated over. There is beauty in tragedy, and in nature, and in the nature of human existence, co-existence and relations. It’s synthesized and synchronized, breathing and coughing and screaming and whispering; there are tunnels and alcoves, room amongst the clouds and the air in the sea. It could be anything, and everything, and in doing so, it ends.
Top 20 Metal Albums of 2013:
20. Summoning – Old Mornings Dawn
Another enchanted trip through Middle Earth with our trusted tour guides. Epic atmospheric folk metal doesn’t get any better than this, and with their seventh release they continue to prove they are masters of the style.
19. SubRosa – More Constant Than The Gods
This was my first experience with the band, and it was a fruitful endeavor indeed. I’m not an incredibly huge fan of sludge, and an even smaller fan of doom, but this album was certainly an exception, a very strong offering.
18. Nails – Abandon All Life
Nails return, once again, under the helm of producer extraordinaire Kurt Ballou. Abandon All Life is a punishing album, quick to destroy the listener in the wake of it’s ruthlessness.
17. Aosoth – IV: An Arrow In Heart
Aosoth’s fourth album is another exploration of the darkest corners of your typical black metal universe. Frostbitten riffs pummel and lurch, infecting with each sprawling release. By far, one of the most gruesome black metal albums of the year and par for the course for this French band.
16. The Black Dahlia Murder – Everblack
I’ve been a fan of The Black Dahlia Murder for awhile now, Deflorate and Nocturnal are incredible metal albums, but for some reason they have never seemed to be a band that I enjoyed enough to make the best of the year list. Everblack changed this. The band is in top form on this album, they’ve always been impeccably taught and precise, but never this confident in their abilities to explore the genre they are starting to slowly control.
15. Terra Tenebrosa – The Purging
I came upon this album early on in the year and it has stuck with me like the plague. It is the dirtiest sounding album on this list. It oozes filth and defilement. Disjointed riffs give way to the poundings of off beat rhythms while distorted vocals, which seem to be provided by a recently summoned demon, craft their way through the underbelly of this terrible beast. Samples of inhuman and human noises fade in and out throughout the mix and an overall sense of hopelessness fills the tainted air, extraordinarily creepy.
14. Paysage d’Hiver – Das Tor
This is my first experience with Paysage d’Hiver, which translates to “Landscape of winter,” but not my first experience with the man behind the music. Wintherr, also fronts a band that I am very familiar with, Darkspace, both bands produce varied forms of black metal. Landscape of winter is the perfect description for the music found on Das Tor. While this album finds the band in it’s best production so far, it is still ice cold and extremely lo-fi. While the songs are long, usually starting with an extended intro of wintry ambiance, they eventually evolve into epic journeys.
13. Celeste – Animale(s)
France continues to produce quality metal bands year after year, especially those with black metal influences. Celeste’s double album is a powerhouse of black metal inspired hardcore, something I was unsure of at first but then completely embraced after the first listen. This double album is a lot to take in, subsequent listens provide a plethora of reasons to keep coming back.
12. An Autumn For Crippled Children – Try Not To Destroy Everything You Love
Another year and another great AAFCC album to enjoy. Like clockwork this band delivers every year a slathering of healthy blackgaze. Though the genre has been hitting big in other areas this year, one constant in the genre is this band, their brand of black metal is immersive, swirling, and emotional. The song writing continues to improve and get progressively more interesting with the addition of expertly placed keyboard parts.
11. Shining – One One One
Shining’s last album, Blackjazz, erupted and took the metal world by surprise with their odd form of saxophone driven, jazz infused black metal. The previous effort was more varied and experimental, while this year’s release was more straightforward and, dare I say it, poppy. All of the elements that make Shining so crazy interesting and dynamic are present, but this album is filled with songs that drive hard in the realm of pop, these songs are catchy, addictive even.
10. The Ocean – Pelagial
This was another album that caught my interest early in the year. I have been a casual fan of The Ocean for a couple years now, never fully loving any particular release wholeheartedly. Pelagial, is incredible, let’s start with that. An enormous achievement in the concept album game, The Ocean document, through music, the descending levels of the ocean. Starting off with more progressive death metal techniques, the album slowly starts to change as it progresses deeper within the depths, getting slower and adopting a doom filled vibe. It’s an impressive feat that is equally impressive to experience.
9. The Ruins Of Beverast – Blood Vaults: The Blazing Gospel Of Heinrich Kramer
I was greatly anticipating this release being a big fan of the band, and I couldn’t be more elated. This is a very dense album of blackened doom metal seen through the eyes of an late 1400’s Catholic clergyman who was a known persecutor of “witches.” It’s unforgiving, contemplative, and epic in scale. There seems to be more doom infused parts this time around, which is somewhat unfortunate if you enjoyed the black metal aspects of the band, but the album is still an incredible addition to the discography and a deserved addition to this list.
8. Falkenbach – Asa
Falkenbach is one of my favorite folk metal bands out there, and Asa is possibly the best album the band has released thus far. The production is crisp and clear, everything is properly placed and spotlighted. The songwriting is of the best Vratyas Vakyas has presented us with, the songs are perfectly catchy, they utilize strings in all the right moments, and the guitars have never been this moving. All of his albums are journeys, this not excluded, and ones that I’m more than willing to partake in numerous amounts of times knowing the utmost gratification awaits.
7. Anagnorisis – Beyond All Light
There were a couple great USBM releases this year and Anagnorisis’ Beyond All Light was nearly the greatest of them all. This album is vast and all encompassing. The guitars weave beautiful melodies that soar and then hammer into the ground at a moments notice, flailing at full speed. The drums are executed perfectly, hard hitting and precise. The vocals and the production of them are some of the best, if not the best, of the year. “Every dream I’ve ever had has died, but soon enough I’ll get it right.” There’s an unbelievable amount of pained optimism that surges through these songs, and coupled with the instrumentation, it’s an unforgettable album. I’m very excited to see how this band develops and progresses.
6. Oranssi Pazuzu – Valonielu
There is something entrancing about this album. Something that sucks you in slowly and melds you into the fabric of the songs. Similar to The Field, Oranssi Pazuzu operate in the trance-inducing spectrum of repetition. While they don’t function as slowly as The Field, they do lull you into their world through catchy grooves that echo back and forth, changing with the addition of vocal lines and reverb soaked guitar parts that just grab you and hold. A truly wonderful adventure into the outer spaces of black metal.
5. Svart Crown – Profane
If the number one spot was to go to the album that I listened to the most, this would be the number one album of the year. I was a big fan of their last effort, Witnessing The Fall, with their Deathspell Omega vibe and blackened death metal explosiveness. Another French band destroying the metal world with top quality releases, Profane is a beast in every sense of the word. This album is the most violent album of the year and it didn’t leave my rotation for a good two months. It’s fast and crushing, it thrashes about and stomps forcefully, never lumbering. The songs are seamlessly brought forth and left behind, they are catchy and brutal and overall, epic. Besides the next entry, the most enjoyable album of the year.
4. Fleshgod Apocalypse – Labyrinth
The third LP from Italian extreme metal masters, Fleshgod Apocalypse, not only re-solidified me as a die-hard fan but they subsequently helped me appreciate their last effort, Agony, an album that I wasn’t to thrilled with at first. I am a huge fan of Oracles, their first LP, and when Agony was released I wasn’t ready for the overwhelming orchestral influence. Labyrinth is such a powerfully strong release that it couldn’t be ignored. Immensely entertaining, Fleshgod have constructed a perfect balance between the guitars, strings, and horns, something I thought was lacking on their previous release.The songs flow together seamlessly and they are so forceful that there is no chance your attention could be diverted. It’s also worth mentioning the drum performance, one of many incredible drum performances this year including the aforementioned Svart Crown album, of Francesco Paoli, who is absolutely pummeling and brutally fast and fluid. As noted before, along with Profane, Labyrinth is the most entertaining album of the year.
3. Ulcerate – Vermis
Ulcerate’s Relapse debut is quite the turgid affair, one of two on the year. The number one spot also holds true to the difficulty. As for Vermis, Ulcerate have toned down the more “accessible” aspects of their sound. Almost non existent are the catchy riffs and explosive endings that filled their previous effort, and number one album for me in 2011. The music on this album is much darker, more ominous, and very dense. The listener needs a couple spins through this material before being able to discern what exactly is shifting and grinding these songs into place. Once again, Jamie St. Merat provides the greatest drum performance of the year. His brilliance behind the kit is unrivaled in modern metal. Catchy and explosive aspects aside, and don’t get me wrong there are still plenty of moments once you find them in the swirl, this album is absolutely stunning in scope. Ulcerate are on the top level of the metal scene and pushing upwards.
2. Deafheaven – Sunbather
I was a big fan of Roads To Judah. I could tell Deafheaven were a promising young black metal band, from the United States nonetheless. I had no idea, and I couldn’t have predicted, the level that they would reach with just their second full length release. I remember watching the teaser video for the album a month or two before the release, George and Kerry in the studio laying down guitar parts, and hearing a short clip of a soaring guitar line over a wall of distortion stopped me in my tracks. I was suddenly aware of what was coming. Still, not within the grand presence of the whole, I was unable to properly visualize the effect this record would have, and will have. I also must mention how polarizing this record is, as is every album released in the blackgaze genre. Many metal fans don’t consider this metal, argue with them I will not. Many non metal fans aren’t accustomed to the production techniques of black metal, though this album is a far cry from it’s Norwegian forebears. Either way you’re coming from, this album is a classic, and not just specifically in the nature of it’s orchestration and delivery, it’s also a classic in the sense of it’s impact within the realm of music in general. This will be the album that influences the vast majority of up and coming young metal and non metal musicians. It’s impact isn’t fully felt yet, but believe me it is coming. Just writing the title, Sunbather, brings the essence of importance. It feels right, it is the perfect storm.
1. Altar Of Plagues – Teethed Glory & Injury
Sunbather is an incredible album, a masterpiece. There’s only one album more important. The Irish band Altar Of Plagues has been working in the atmospheric black metal genre for the entirety of their career. Their previous two full lengths were expansive, in track length and scope. Their swansong, Teethed Glory & Injury, is different, the last product of a band that has come to the end. This album is just as, if not more, polarizing than Deafheaven’s. This album may not be as culturally significant as the other, it’s certainly not as accessible. So why is there such backlash? This album, as previously mentioned of another, is the epitome of a turgid affair. I’ve never spent this much time with an album without fully appreciating it. It’s difficult, which might explain the rift. Once it’s opened up to you, only the brilliance of what has been laid out can be fully understood and marveled at. The earthy atmosphere of their past releases has been left for the cold indifference of a mechanized, industrious world. The push and pull of a society on the brink. There is beauty in this music, it’s in the shards of the distortion, it’s in the rambling precision of the drums, it’s in the pained howls, the loss of self in the amalgam. It’s difficult. I’m not going to lie, I can see why many have dismissed this record. It’s seemingly inaccessible. It’s rough, not just around the edges, everywhere. In fact it’s hard for me to say why this album means so much to me, almost in the same way R Plus 7 means so much. It’s glorious and misunderstood. It’s perfectly flawed. It’s meticulous and calculating. It demands so much because it offers everything. Early on I couldn’t tell if they were deliberately trying to sabotage the album or if they had reached a higher plane of operation that was beyond acknowledgment, I believe now the truth resides in the latter. The caliber of this release will not be matched by any band for quite some time, though it will be sought after.
Bolzer – Aura
Blut Aus Nord – What Once Was… Liber III
Insomnium – Ephemeral