Xander Harrison Looks Back On 2013

The authorThe author

The author

Sorry for the long absence, guys. I took a holiday to Beijing, and in China I had no access to Facebook and limited access to Google. Since I communicate with Chris via Facebook, it was damn near impossible to communicate with him at all. But this is not that story.

After a long and arduous process of listening to the dozens of albums that have been unleashed in 2013, I think I’ve finally come down to compiling a top 10 list of the best metal albums released this year. I think it’s safe to publish this now, since I doubt much else is being released this year. So here we go. Let’s start from bottom to top, with an album I need to bitch about before getting started.

Album I Want To Bitch About (But Not Really): Carcass’ Surgical Steel

Surgical SteelSurgical Steel

Surgical Steel

To be honest, I was hoping for more grindcore from Carcass. I was desperate for a better produced, better riffed version of Symphonies of Sickness. Instead, I got an album that was very similar to Heartwork. And while the sweetness of a new Carcass album was still very real, the bitterness of my hopes of a new grinding Carcass album not being fulfilled still lingered.

It was a damn shame. Nonetheless, Surgical Steel turned out to be a fun melodeath album, with an odd brutal and gory theme. It was strange to see the two combined, as we usually see nihilist or depressive themes in melodeath. It was fun and heavy, but just didn’t make the effort to becoming the album it could have been. It felt forced, like they’d gone “oh, well people seemed to like Heartwork so here you go.” Shame, really. Standout tracks are “The Master Butcher’s Apron” and “Unfit for Human Consumption.” But if you really, REALLY want to listen to this album and haven’t already, don’t listen to Heartwork right before. It’s the same fucking thing, really. This album is far from bad, I was just expecting something that was more up to my standards for Carcass.

Honorable mentions:
Summoning’s Old Morning’s Dawn
Powerwolf’s Preachers of the Night
Wormed’s Exodromos
Ulcerate’s Vermis
Ovid’s Withering’s Scryers of the Ibis

And now, my top albums of the year.

#10: Kalmah’s Seventh Swamphony

Seventh SwamphonySeventh Swamphony

Seventh Swamphony

The excellence we have come to expect from Kalmah was back in full force this year with the release of Seventh Swamphony. Stupid title, but the music sure as hell made up for it. A grandiose yet surprisingly brutal feeling to their songs, one after another continued to reaffirm my love for the band.

The production was iffy in places, and I think the drums needed a bit more attention. The guitars were crunchy and distorted, and I really enjoyed the solos, as they were more garnishes, rather than the meat of the song. Not really pushing any boundaries for Kalmah, but a great album anyway. Standout tracks are “Hollo” and “Wolves on the Throne.”

#9: Altar of Plagues’ Teethed Glory & Injury
The blackness is strong in this one. The sound we’d come to expect and love from Altar of Plagues is back, and the atmospheric elements that underpin the songs are strong and beautiful. The instrumentation is fantastic and ethereal, the guitar tones jumping from crunchy and heavily distorted to acoustic without it sounding forced. Standout tracks are probably “A Body Shrouded” and “Twelve was Ruin.” Teethed Glory & Injury is a fantastic black metal album for any listener, regardless of subgenre preference.

#8: Autopsy’s The Headless Ritual

The Headless RitualThe Headless Ritual

The Headless Ritual

An earth-shattering death metal experience. Not really pushing any boundaries for Autopsy, but a fun, gore-filled ride nonetheless. Balls-heavy from start to finish, Autopsy offer us another tantalizing feast of gore, heavily distorted guitars, brilliant riffing and drums so fantastically mixed and thundering that, when played loud enough, shook my house. Absolutely fantastic, but then, it was kind of what I was expecting. Not a complaint, I just would have like to have heard a little variety. Regurgitating the same thing musically has never sat well with me. Standout tracks are easily “She is a Funeral” and “When Hammer Meets Bone.”

#7: Gorguts’ Colored Sands
One of Canada’s finest bands returned this year with Colored Sands, an album I’d been looking forward to ever since I’d heard about it. After getting into Gorguts the year previously, I’d come to have a standard I expected Gorguts to play at. That standard was completely annihilated, resulting in one of the best prog albums I have ever heard. The riffs? Crushing. The prog wankery? All the stops had been pulled out. Standout tracks were “Enemies of Compassion” and “Absconders.”

#6: Deeds of Flesh’s Portals to Canaan

Portals to CanaanPortals to Canaan

Portals to Canaan

After listening to this album, I was scraping melted pieces of my face off the floor. A brutal and techy death metal work of art, Portals to Canaan reaffirmed my love for all things brutal after a short spell stuck in the beautiful ways of power metal. The snare mix was fucking weird though, man. I know it’s normal for tech death these days to have weird snares but it has to stop, man. It was so pronounced it kind of distracted from the brutality of the album. Something similar prevented the new Coffins album from being on this list at all, which is a damn shame because if it weren’t for that one little thing it’d definitely be on here. Anyway, Deeds of Flesh have definitely excelled themselves with this album. It’s absolutely fantastic, from the artwork to the songs. Standout songs are “Hollow Human Husks” and “Xeno-Virus.”

#5: Kvelertak’s Meir
What I consider to be one of the best metal for parties, Meir immediately left a good impression on me. An album that had its mix of very dark-sounding songs and almost rock anthems, Meir has something for every occasion. When you need something darker, you listen to Nekrokosmos. When you need something fun and upbeat, you can listen to their namesake track, Kvelertak. I find myself coming back to listen to Meir a lot, as it’s an album that has successfully stuck itself in my head. Standout tracks are “Månelyst” and “Kvelertak.”

#4: Caladan Brood’s Echoes of Battle

Echoes of BattleEchoes of Battle

Echoes of Battle

An album I had been hearing about but never listened to until very recently, Echoes of Battle reminded me a lot of Summoning’s latest. However, I found it much more interesting to listen to. The symphonic elements were much better written, the vocals are maybe better but it could just be a different mix, but I just found myself engaging with it more. The majesty of the songs was brilliant, and really reminded me of “Lord of the Rings,” or maybe “Game of Thrones,” and what kind of music would fit in those stories. All in all, a fantastic epic black album. Standouts for me would be “Wild Autumn Wind” and “Book of the Fallen.”

#3: Ayreon’s The Theory of Everything
Another cool concept album about learning and its problems, Arjen Anthony Lucassen has brought forth another piece of brilliant he calls The Theory of Everything. Proggy, power metally, and pretty deep conceptually, it had all the trademarks of an Ayreon album. The genius of Arjen Lucassen really shines through on this album. The guest personnel is insane, including the singers of Grand Magus, Lacuna Coil, Toehider (a favourite of mine from Brisbane), Ancient Bards, Kamelot, Nightwish, and Asia. What I really love is that Keith Emerson, of Emerson Lake and Palmer fame, is on this album. There aren’t really any standout tracks, since most of them are a little over a minute long and supposed to blend into each other to weave the story. In that respect, listen to this album in one go. That tends to be a thing with Ayreon albums.

#2: Ihsahn’s Das Seelenbrechen
It took me about 10 minutes to fall completely in love with this album. Ihsahn never disappoints me. EVER. Das Seelenbrechen incorporated much more of angL’s sound than Eremita did, which was something I missed despite Devin Townsend being on the album. Das Seelenbrechen brought it all back though, and had a dark feeling to what strangely felt like it should be happier. Harsh vocals were incorporated much more than Eremita, which was also a nice touch. It was a true Ihsahn solo album, filled with musical and conceptual complexity, something I’d come to expect from his lengthy career in the prog scene. Standout tracks are “NaCi” and “Tacit.”

NemesisNemesis

Nemesis

#1: Stratovarius’ Nemesis
A true power metal masterpiece, this album was the cornerstone of my 2013 listening. It marked a new direction for Stratovarius, moving away from the flowery power metal they were used to and moving into something darker and heavier. Timo’s singing is fantastic on Nemesis, as well as all the instrumentation, a thing that they have backed up live as well as in the studio. Finland’s power metal scene might be struggling under the weight of the melodeath scene there, but powerhouses like Stratovarius fight through it, and can come on top. A beautiful album from start to finish, the highlights for me would be “Unbreakable,” “Fantasy,” and “Dragons.” Those are the songs that I come back to time and time again because god DAMN, this album is literal perfection.

That’s it for me. Go listen to these albums if you haven’t already. I highly recommend them all, obviously. Even more awesome stuff is coming out next year, so remember to look out for it all. Until the next time, Xander signing off.

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