I'm just gonna come out and say it: 2013 saw a lot of "good" releases, but hardly any classics that will stand the test of time. For that reason, I won't number my top 10, instead, I'll list it alphabetically. Sorry, 2013, better luck next year.
Anyway, here we go:
TOP 10 LPs:
BONE SICKNESS - Alone In The Grave
Now these fellas here make themselves known like a kick in the gut. Within the album's short play time (under 20 minutes), Bone Sickness rock your liver with a grinding, no-frills punk-ish death metal assault that harkens back to Repulsion, Nihilist and Napalm Death while managing to feel as fresh as the first time the casket cracked open back in the '80s. Don't listen to this album while driving or breast-feeding.
GRAVE MIASMA - Odori Sepulcrorum
Grave Miasma need no further introduction. They've been peddling their particular brand of sulfur-worshiping death metal since 2009, becoming underground sweethearts in the meanwhile. A lot of hype surrounded the release of their first full-length, and I'm glad to report that they've managed to live up to it: caustic riffs play over oppressive drumming to provide an album that's equal parts obscure and diverse - yup, they've managed to expand on their demo/EP sound with new songwriting ideas that proves they have something to say in the genre instead of recycling riffs every third song.
GRAVE UPHEAVAL - Untitled
"The songwriting and performance on the album is primal and severe, while the exquisitely disorienting haze in which the songs are drenched produces a hallucinatory effect. Forms emerge and retreat into the sonic miasma producing a textural richness rarely achieved in Death Metal." - from the label's Bandcamp site.
I love going the easy route, and NWN just provided it for me. Ever since their inception Grave Upheaval have been on the atavistic, feces-throwing primal Metal-Of-Death side of things, but not by bashing your skull in with blazing riffs and d-beat drums. No, they've tried to conjure up the grimy bang-a-seashell-against-the-cave-wall noise atmosphere - they're almost a death metal answer to Throbbing Gristle or Nurse With Wound.
IRON DOGS - Free And Wild
Last year's "Cold Bitch" was a cool surprise, and news of a follow-up had me giggling like an innocent Tokyo schoolgirl-like giggle. I'm glad to report that these Canadians haven't changed their style in a radical manner, but rather fine-tuned it. Yes, this is their most Brocas-Helm-meets-Cirith-Ungol work yet, with fretboard acrobatics meeting soaring vocals barking catchy choruses over mostly mid-paced beats; it's metal as fuck, but I kinda miss the balls to the wall insanity and speed of their first album.
LANTERN - Below
What's that? Finnish Death Metal that sounds original? In 2013? It's not that the formula is being completely re-written, it's just that's it's so excellently executed, you cannot turn a blind eye to it. "Virgin Taste Of Damnation" put Lantern on this blasphemous path, yet now they've come forth with a full-length that acknowledges US screeching guitars circa "Screams of Anguish" alongside Finnish eerie atmospherics such as Disgrace or Depravity which is sure to make you hide under your bed from the Demons In Your Room.
MION'S HILL - Black Death
Probably the most unique choice of this top 10. Mion's Hill throw forth such a simplistic cocktail, you'd wonder why no other bands follow suit. Having a Hellhammer bass line with an early Dream Death riff style, some Mefisto riffs and occasional doom-death part (early demo-era Autopsy comes to mind during the slower parts), these guys really don't give a shit about blast beating you to death. Catching the Black Plague was never this fun!
NEKROFILTH - Devil’s Breath
This. This fucking album right here. This is probably the most vicious shit to come out this year, and it's catchy as fuck, to boot! If you're familiar with Nekrofilth, it's no departure from their usual sound, but if you're not, I hope you like Abscess. Punk-ish death metal with catchy choruses galore, this is the type of shit to make you crack your windows open and scream "I'M A DEGENERATE!" Best lyrics by far. Needs to be played around family gatherings and church baptisms.
SHITFUCKER - Suck Cocks In Hell
A band with little pretense, it does exactly what it says on the tin. To quote their bandcamp page, "Bow before apocalyptic witching metal of the highest order/odor : this is SHITFUCKER's Suck Cocks in Hell! Recommended for diehards of GISM, early SODOM, ABIGAIL, and early BATHORY.".
It literally is GISM as a combination of US punk rhytms and European over-the-top vocals and riffing. Fun as fuck, to be played over and over in your Sex Dungeon.
TRIBULATION - The Formulas of Death
Yeah, yeah, Sweden's a gay swamp, hurr dee durr. It's a bit too long for its own good, and it draws on a lot of hate from death metal purists, but it's just so fucking good, I couldn't ignore it. For me, 2009's "The Horror" was album of the year, and I seriously expected a "Part II" with this album - I've never been so glad to be wrong. It may be The-Doors-meets-Swedish-death-metal, but it's also a music enthusiast's buffet, with long build-ups, tasty leads and more vicious riffs than you can shake a stick at. They've moved away from the formula that made them famous (was The Horror famous? I liked it), but they've evolved *cough* into something quite extraordinary. Listen while sipping fine brandy and ignoring minority crimes in your region.
VILLAINS - Never Abandon The Slut Train
Motherfucking Villains fucking street fucking metal night knifing lunatic drinking motherfucking yeah! I may be repeating myself by quoting Bandcamp pages, but, y'know, if it ain't broke, don't fix it:"Every riff on this album is drenched in disdain for the sobriety of day and a reverence for the Dionysian decadence and unbridled destruction heralded by night’s call. Villains’ music dwells in that span of hours devoid of memory during which ambition manifests itself in the handing out of unrestrained chin-checks and the indiscriminate hunt for feminine submission until the haze of morning reveals the broken remnants of the night’s revelry."
This is the scumfuck's metal album. Sleaze drips out the walls while you're trying to pour yourself another double whiskey and hit on your highschool sweetheart in grimy hallways during your 20-year reunion. It ain't pretty, but, mate, life ain't pretty. All you can do is down another shot, headbutt a paper towel dispenser and pledge allegiance to the Slut Train.
TOP 10 DEMOS/EPs:
BLACK MAGICK SS - Symbols of Great Power/Panzerwitch
Yeah, I can't choose between these two releases, so fuck it, they're both in. It's a tough sound to describe, almost as if they're a giallo psych rock band (think "Four Flies On Grey Velvet"), combined with a no-budget Abysmal Grief, but with a seriously uplifting feeling that will kick you out of your chair and make you jump around the room praising Sat-- aw shit, they're a black metal version of a gospel group, aren't they?
BÖLZER - Aura
Furious and chunky blackened death metal provides the canvas on which lavish, almost symphonic riffs are laid out in what is one of the year's most original releases. It's hard to believe that only two guys manage to hit this hard, but go see them live if you ever get the chance, they're even more rabid.
BONES - Demo 2013
These Belgians waste no time in getting down to business. Scandinavian death metal riffs give way to American mid-paced morbidity with just a hint of fellow countrymen Chemical Breath in the vocal department to create a Cyclopean demo that's sure to inflict maddening visions and fever dreams.
MABUSE - Nekromagic
I've featured Mabuse last year too, but they're just so fucking good. Get this if you're into early Deceased.
MOLD - Cremated Alive
Filthy as fuck death metal from Denmark with an excellent low-end "our-rehearsal-space-is-near-an-active-volcano" production. Could have easily been some early '90s Pestigore side-project.
OCCULT BURIAL - Demo MMXIII
I love old-school Bathory, they love old-school Bathory, why don't we hang out? Seriously, if Quorthon would have amped up his rock'n'roll factor slightly and released "Bathory" again and again, this is what it would probably sound like eventually.
PLAGUESTORM - Bestial Exekution
Old school death metal demo production, vicious vocals and some speed metal riffs make this a very enjoyable experience that channels a Treblinka or Morbid feeling at times.
POSSESSION - His Best Deceit
Most savage demo of the year, that's for sure. Over-the-top black/death that hints towards South American greats such as Holocausto or Sepultura (they even covered "Necromancer"!) and has enough energy to level an entire city block. Stop reading, start thrashing!
RANGER - Knights of Darkness
Doc Brown was wrong, you don't need a DeLorean to travel back in time. From what I'm hearing here, all you need is a guitar. Fast and deadly speed metal that sounds like they've opened for Agent Steel back in the day.
ZOM - Multiversal Holocaust
Two more songs from these Horrors From Beyond, just enough to whet our appetite until they finally hit us with a full-length next year. Death Metal from the coldest, most abject regions of the Multiverse.
Abysmal Grief - Feretri
Their darkest and most mature album yet.
Act of Impalement - Hyperborean Altar
Doom metal with liberal doses of crust, but not quite into stenchcore territory.
Autopsy - The Headless Ritual
Say what you will about nu-Autopsy, but they can still crank out the occasional killer tune, and this album has probably the best guitar work yet.
Enforcer - Death By Fire
Flamboyant speed metal. Catchy riffs, blazing solos and a singer that just oozes charisma. You can't not have a good time with this.
Machetazo - Ruin
They've toned down the grind aspect a bit in favor of a dark and cavernous death metal assault. A grimy, harrowing, plodding masterpiece that is "the real fucking deal".
Manifesting - Descension Through The Seven Forbidden Seals
Macabre death metal that brings label-mates ZOM to mind, but with an added crusty influence.
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Push The Sky Away
Way better than the last full-length, this one seems a bit more intimate and low-key. It's not a classic Nick Cave album by any stretch, but it's the best in quite a while.
Obliteration - Black Death Horizon
Death Metal from Norway with quite a hard-on for Autopsy. This one has a more laid-back and atmospheric feeling than Nekropsalms, but don't be fooled into thinking they went soft: from atop the throne of bones, the view is bleaker than ever.
Rotten - Cryptic Catacombs
Solo death metal side-project of Dave Rotten from Avulsed. Cavernous and grimy, really good stuff, he should focus on this more instead of Avulsed.
Slutvomit - Swarming Darkness
Blazing-fast black/thrash that evokes early Sodom, Nifelheim and Possessed in an insane over-the-top concoction. Also has some of the best song titles this year, with tracks like "Poservore" or "Incendiary Rape".
"Comeback of the year" award: SATAN - Life Sentence
"Coffins album of the year" award: NIGHTSLUG - Dismal Fucker
"These guys really love Venom" award: BAT - Primitive Age
"Are you sure these leads aren't from a Mercyful Fate record?" award: SATAN'S WRATH - Aeons of Satan's Reign
"Someone finally fucking used the Sovereign speech from Mass Effect 1 as a sample in a death metal record" award: ZEALOTRY - The Charnel Expanse
"Most haunting vocal performance" award: CAUCHEMAR - Tenebrario
"Greek metal that isn't from Greece album of the year" award: SACRIPHYX - The Western Front
"I can't wait for 2013 to be over so I won't have to hear about this shit ever again in my life" award: DEAFHEAVEN - Sunbather
NON-METAL ALBUM OF THE YEAR: BEASTMILK - Climax
Expectations were high following their demo/EP, but they've managed to deliver in spades. Finnish post-punk with excellent drumming, catchy choruses and a somewhat bleak atmosphere, you'll want to hit "Play" again and again once "Strange Attractors" hits its last haunting note.
STUFF I DIDN'T LIKE VERY MUCH:
Necrowretch - Putrid Death Sorcery
Excellent guitar work here, but can't they go back to the demo production? This one's a bit too shiny.
Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats - Mind Control
Has some good songs here and there, but overall it just felt too soft and forgettable. The video for Mind Crawler is the best thing to come out of it.
Darkthrone - The Underground Resistance
I really like the new Darkthrone direction, but this album had like two good songs at best. Come on, guys, you're not touring, you're not pressured into putting out an album a year, get your shit together and try harder for the next one.
Torture Chain - Mutilating Astral Entities
I've been keeping an eye on Torture Chain for quite some time now, but their debut full-length just feels... bloated? I guess they're better in bite-sized chunks.
Necrocurse - Grip Of The Dead
Not particularly bad, but not memorable either. Crank out a new Nifelheim album already.
Witchgrave - Witchgrave
"Occult" Swedish heavy metal from the members of Antichrist. Compared to their EP, the album's a bit flat and light on catchy riffs. Still worth a listen, though.
MOVIES OF THE YEAR:
ONLY GOD FORGIVES (Nicolas Winding Refn)
The plot is simplistic, but the soundtrack and the cinematography are hair-raising. Yeah, it draws a bit from Santa Sangre, but it's an entirely different beast. Wanna fight?
UPSTREAM COLOR (Shane Carruth)
A movie that flows unlike any others this year. Even if you were to disregard the plot (which is, admittedly, a bit of a mind-bender), you could enjoy it as an exercise in pure cinema; make sure you turn up your speakers when viewing.
A FIELD IN ENGLAND (Ben Wheatley)
A shroomed-out, beautifully shot, fantastically scored fever-dream quest through purgatory.
LA GRANDE BELLEZZA (Paolo Sorrentino)
Sorrentino sure loves Fellini, huh? Despite its title, the movie had more than a healthy dose of ugliness - ugly people constantly attend ugly parties with ugly music, but when all is said and done, La Grande Bellezza is quite an interesting character piece.
So there you have it. 2013 was simply good. Not bad, and definitely not excellent, it's merely a transitional year. See you in 12 months where we rave about Dead Congregation, ZOM, Deceased and whatever other surprises pop up.
Bone SicknessGrave MiasmaGrave UpheavalIron DogsLanternMion's HillNekrofilthShitfuckerTribulationVillainsBlack Magick SSBölzerBonesMabuseMoldOccult BurialPlaguestormPossessionRangerZomAbysmal griefAct of ImpalementAutopsyEnforcerMachetazoManifestingNick Cave & The Bad SeedsObliterationRottenSlutvomitSatanNightslugBatSatan's WrathZealotryCauchemarSacriphyxBeastmilkNecrowretchDeafheavenUncle Acid and the DeadbeatsDarkthroneTorture ChainNecrocurseWitchgrave