Top Metal Albums of 2013

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It’s New Year’s Eve. Time to celebrate the dawn of a new year that will hopefully bring good times and good music for all of us, regardless of how good or bad this past year has been. 2013 has been quite kind to Black Metal & Brews, with my visitor count finally passing the 50,000 mark earlier this month and with many great bands and labels making contact. With so many great albums I heard this year, perusing the lists of other competent writers and trusted musical resources, I see so much great looking stuff that I need to check out. While this list is by no means comprehensive, these 40 albums impressed themselves upon me in one way or another. I’m sure I missed a lot of great stuff that you guys know about, and I’m sure I’ll even end up kicking myself for overlooking gems that I heard along the way and forgot while trying to write this list. Please feel free to leave your notes on great tunes I missed or anything you disagree with. I’m nothing without the input of my audience, after all.

Anyway, thanks for an incredible year guys. I’m raising a glass to this blog’s success tonight and I hope you’ll join me in listening to some of the best tunes of the year to celebrate an incredible year of metal and beer. While writing this post, I’m consuming a delicious bottle of Shmaltz Brewing’s He’Brew Jewbelation Reborn. It’s got seventeen percent alcohol by volume, paired with seventeen hops and seventeen malts to celebrate their seventeenth anniversary as a brewery. Slightly gimmicky, slightly sweet, and a little bit bitter, almost exactly like the whole ritual of making a year end list. If nothing else, it’s potent enough to kick me straight into next year.


Honorable Mentions (Alphabetical)

Arbre- II

Blood of the Moon- MMXII

Cloud Rat- Moksha

Echtra- Sky Burial 

Empty Suits- Empty Suits

Fell Voices- Regnum Saturni

Jungbluth- Part Ache

Kjaddai/Vooram/Njiqahdda- Split

Lustre- Wonder

Lycus- Tempest

Oranssi Pazuzu- Valonielu

Situs Magus- Le Grand Oeuvre

Urzeit- Urzeit

Vanyar- Triumph of Vanishing

Wormlust- The Feral Wisdom

 

AND NOW, THE LIST:

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25. Cara NeirPortals to a Better, Dead World (Broken Limbs/Halo of Flies)

Blending more kinds of metal than you can shake a stick at usually results in a mediocre album. Apparently Cara Neir knows how to avoid this folly, because they put bits and pieces of punk, black metal, grindcore, doom, and even classic screamo into this intense full-length and they made it work so well it’s painful. And beautiful. And you won’t stop listening once you start.

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24. VlkUnknown Totems (Self-Released)

This brief CD release from a relatively unknown band was more impressive than half of the music I heard from established acts this year. This album was a stellar first effort and has been one of my most heavily played albums of the year.

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23. Total Negation- Zur spaten Stunde | Zeitraume (Temple of Torturous)

Unorthodox black metal seems to be my specialty/preference these days, and this album was among the most compelling examples of how much room is left in the genre.

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22. Raspberry Bulbs- Deformed Worship (Blackest Ever Black/Personnel)

In many ways, 2013 has been the year of the “grower.” Many albums I had anticipated for a long time didn’t fill the place I had imagined they would. Instead, most of these albums turned out to be just as great as I would have expected, but in different ways. Shedding some of the more overtly “blackened” aesthetics in favor of a disjointed post-punk inspired approach, Raspberry Bulbs’ first album as a full band surprised and impressed me with its rabid approach. While it wasn’t the black punk beast I had expected, it turned out to be so much more.

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21. Vulture IndustriesThe Tower (Season of Mist)

Vulture Industries have made a name for themselves with their truly unique take on heavy metal. While I really hate the term “progressive,” as it does little to really explain the music within, these guys get the term thrown at them frequently. This album branches into more elements of rock than prior efforts, which turns out to be quite appropriate for these guys. With a sound that is equal parts Arcturus, Nick Cave, and Faith No More, The Tower surpassed my expectations of this already captivating band.

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20. LeucosisLeucosis (Self-Released)

When Leucosis decided to make this monstrously heavy black metal cassette in an edition of only 30 copies, they were either selling themselves short or trying to create something for collectors to squabble over. Whatever their goal may have been, they released one of the heaviest, most impressive albums of the year. Truly crushing black doom that I feel quite fortunate to have in my collection.

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19. Fyrnask- Eldir Nott (Temple of Torturous)

This album is probably one of the most beautiful black metal albums released all year and was possibly the only release to recreate the thrill I felt when I first discovered some of the genre’s classics in my more formative years.

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18. CAPAThis is the Dead Land, This is Cactus Land (Self-Released)

While this hasn’t yet seen a physical release, this album serves as a proper ending to CAPA’s conceptual trilogy, with songs that feel every bit as weathered and heavily traveled as the album’s lyrical plot would have you believe.

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17. Xothist- Xothist (Fallen Empire)

The claustrophobic, mechanical horror created here on Xothist’s full-length LP technically was not brand new in 2013, but due to its highly limited initial release, I’m considering this as the first opportunity most of us had to hear this brilliance. Enter at your own risk.

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Paramnesia - Ce Que Dit La Bouche D'Ombre (EP)

16. Paramnesia- Ce Que Dit La Bouche D’Ombre (Self-Released)

This EP blindsided me. One of the members of this band sent me a message earlier this year and, as I always do when a band contacts me, I gave it at least one fair listen. That one fair listen became an obsession. The album itself sold out long ago, but you should go download it while you prepare for a full-length from this brilliant group.

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15. RamlordCrippled Minds, Sundered Wisdom (Hypaethral)

These northern crushers have long been beloved here on BM&B, so it was no surprise that this year’s full-length was impressive. This is easily the best crust album I came across all year, if that’s even an appropriate term for Ramlord’s self-described “stenchcore.”

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14. Ephemer- Notre Honneur Immortel (Spectre Sinistre)

This tape (along with a certain LP I’ll be mentioning shortly) forced me to put this list on hold until the very end of the year. I’ve only had a listen five or six times now, but man am I ever blown away. If you enjoyed anything you heard on the first Ephemer release, this brief yet brilliant black metal assault will burrow its way deep into your heart. Had this come out earlier in the year, I’d probably have listened more and placed this even higher. Seriously though, this album is just about perfect.

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13. Paysage d’Hiver- Das Tor (Kunsthall Produktionen)

The word “dense” comes up often in my reviews. Perhaps my lack of experience producing or recording music is the reason. Or maybe it’s because I’m drawn to thick sounds that could fill a room. Regardless of rationale, Das Tor is one of the densest black metal albums of the year, conjuring images of blizzards and mountains in my mind. Four songs clock in around seventy-five minutes, so get ready to sit with this one like you’re surviving a storm. It will be your sole source of comfort.

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12. RecluseRecluse (Graceless)

This vicious demo from Recluse caught me off guard. What seems to be the culmination of a friendship and shared love of Judas Iscariot has led to the birth of this duo, comprised of Cobalt’s McSorley and Loss’s Meacham. While I’ve enjoyed the output of each of their more notable projects, this demo is some of the freshest and most defiant black metal I’ve heard all year. Pure ferocity; take no prisoners. A full-length is currently in the works. I couldn’t be more thrilled.

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11. Lluvia- Premonicion de Guerra (Fallen Empire)

This album was among the reasons I waited until the last day of the year to release this list. With so many truly wonderful December releases, I feel like many other sources might have missed this gem and a few others featured on this list.

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10. Yellow Eyes- Hammer of Night (Sibir Records)

I’ve followed the career of Yellow Eyes closely, watching them blossom from a trio with a promising demo tape to a four-piece with a respectable degree of attention and a decent following with this, their first LP release.

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aosoth

9. AosothIV: An Arrow in Heart (Agonia)

This album was high on my radar right from the start due to the band’s history of excellence. This album did nothing to betray their legacy and seems to have garnered even greater attention for them. IV: An Arrow in Heart is aggressive, desolate, and impossible to wrap my mind around in all the best ways.

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vexovoid

8. PortalVexovoid (Profound Lore)

I have often found Portal’s music difficult to describe to the uninitiated. While some bands create such horrific sounds in a chaotic fashion, Portal always delivers a very methodical, controlled approach. While many bands attempt to recreate the flurries of notes or half-rasped, half-barked vocal style, these guys have always had the delicate precision of true professionals. With Vexovoid, Portal’s trademark sound has evolved into something nebulous and slightly more nuanced, without losing its classic ominous feeling. While this album initially felt like more of the same, a listen on a good sound system or with headphones in really yields elements of bleak noise and terrifying ambiance. If the sound isn’t intense enough, just take a gander at their official video for “Curtain,” one of the few recent videos worth watching.

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7. Aurvandil- Thrones (Psychic Violence/Eisenwald)

This one came as something of a late contender in my year, but instantly impressed me in a way few other tapes have done this year. A galloping and brilliant offering of black metal from this project that totally took me to another place as a listener. It’s rare for a band I’ve never heard of to just come in and impress me in such a fashion, but that’s exactly what happened here. Grab this tape while it’s still available. It should have already sold out by now. If you miss the tape, look out for Eisenwald’s vinyl release in early 2014.

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morthylla

6. MorthyllaMorthylla (Schattenkult Produktionen)

This is probably the highest ranked release on this list that didn’t get the widespread love it truly deserved. This violent and beautiful debut offering from Morthylla not only contained some of the most enjoyable black metal of the year, it also came in a gorgeous, super limited edition box directly from the artist. While that’s long sold out, even the standard cassette available from the label is beautifully designed.

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blood vaults

5. The Ruins of Beverast- Blood Vaults (Van Records)

I’ll admit that my love for The Ruins of Beverast can sometimes tread into near-obsessive territory. With a catalog of almost consistent perfection, it’s really hard to fault this project, which is a full live band for the first time with Blood Vaults. Still, my first listen left me baffled. There is a clarity on this record that really threw me for a loop. There have always been cleaner passages in The Ruins of Beverast’s music, but the trudging beauty displayed on this album really shocked me. I was not pleased. Still, morbid curiosity and serious love forced me to listen again, and slowly the picture became clearer. This album is not intended to showcase the hazy ferocity of Unlock the Shrine, nor the bleak violence of Rain Upon the Impure. Instead, Blood Vaults stands alone as a monolithic offering of excellent metal that is neither black metal nor funeral doom, yet borrows heavily from each. This process yields something unique and wonderful. First time listeners may be confused, but I urge you to give this behemoth a fair listen. It will likely surprise you just as it surprised me.

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4. A Pregnant Light- Stars Will Fall & Domination Harmony (Colloquial Sound Recordings)

A Pregnant Light continued to dominate my playlists this year with a couple of solid releases. This project of the man identified only as Deathless Maranatha was slightly less prolific this year, possibly due to commitments with other projects such as electronic powerhouse Bodystocking (which graced my electronic/noise list). What Deathless Maranatha lacked in quantity has truly been made up for with quality. These two brief cassettes showcase a sense of harmony that was hinted at on prior offerings, yet was not fully realized to the degree presented here. A Pregnant Light’s roots in hardcore punk have always been made clear to the listener, but on these tapes, especially Stars Will Fall, it seems that all has been laid bare. These two sold out almost immediately, but are both available on the Colloquial Sound bandcamp page.

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3. Dressed in Streams- The Search for Blood (Colloquial Sound Recordings)

While it’s no surprise that multiple Colloquial Sound releases are gracing my list this year, even I’m a bit surprised that Dressed in Streams has surpassed A Pregnant Light on my list with this monumental cassette. With a far more elegant and full formed approach than their prior releases, The Search for Blood shows Dressed in Streams properly merging electronic elements with dense black metal for a more complete sound. If this is the direction in which this project is headed, I can only hope for a full-length release of new material in 2014. Let’s keep our fingers crossed and hope that somebody in the band or label is listening.

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2. Ash BorerBloodlands (Gilead Media/Psychic Violence)

While this album was technically an EP, it held within it a vastness and immensity so overpowering in its scope that it feels far more realized than most full-lengths I encountered this year.

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henbane

1. Cultes Des GhoulesHenbane (Under the Sign of Garazel/Hells Headbangers/Of Crawling Shadows)

I’m not even sure how I can use my words to properly describe the true evil conjured by Cultes Des Ghoules on this year’s finest release.  Henbane is primarily a mid-paced affair, with even the shortest of its five tracks stretching to just around the nine-minute mark. I personally own the cassette edition of this release, which is beautifully assembled with string holding the whole thing together. Some folks have commented that the vocals on this release are relatively off-putting and unpleasant. While I’ll admit that the varied groans and howls can take some getting used to, the popularity of bands like Mayhem and Inquisition leads me to believe that strange vocals aren’t too much of an obstacle. The guitars are jagged and vicious in all the best ways, and there’s actually a heavy presence of low-end here that really rounds out the music. While many musicians seem to take on esoteric beliefs as a sort of posturing, Cultes Des Ghoules have me pretty convinced that they live a life reflected by their music. Easily the strongest album of the year, and I’m happy to share it here.

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