The Eleven Best Metal Albums of 2013

By now, you all know the rules, but here’s a one phrase recap: New studio records only. Also, like a classic Spinal Tap joke, I went to eleven this year. What can I say, I couldn’t narrow it down farther from that. It happens. Let’s get started.

First off, I really don’t have a ‘Little Band That Could’ award to give out this year, though I am coming around on Bronze Honey. I just haven’t had a chance to really dig into it and see what I think. So hold that thought, you may see something more in January.

So in lieu of that, I’m hanging out my first annual Best Non-Metal Album of the Year award, which may or may not become an annual thing. Anyway, I’m handing it out to The Tossers – “Emerald City” from Victory Records. If you think Dropkick Murphys sold out and Flogging Molly is a bunch of hacks, try this on for size. After waiting for years, The Tossers put all the puzzle pieces in place and really produced a blockbuster effort. This album is a great listen, full of heart, wit and toasts to toasts. Try it out.

Okay, on to the standard stuff: Honorable Mentions. As ever, lots of potential honorable mentions this year, but there’s two in particular I want to single out. Mothership and Battlecross couldn’t be more different as bands, but both excelled in 2013. Battlecross for the furious strength of singles like “Flesh and Bone.” Mothership for crafting a wonderful, spot-on homage to the big riffs of days gone by. Plus, their dad is in the band. Bonus! Nicely done by each band.

#11 – Vista Chino: “Peace”

A rose by any other name and all that. Out of the ashes of Kyuss comes Vista Chino and the mission remains the same: Produce top-notch desert rock that plows ahead in a dry drone, transporting the listener to a blasted landscape of buzzing rhythm and carefully measured tempo. Good enough for me.

#10 – Destruction: “Spiritual Genocide

I’m trying to be careful here. Last year I got entranced by a throwback thrash record, Exumer’s “Fire and Damnation” and looking back I said ‘Exumer at number four? What was I thinking?’ So now I’m tempering my judgment here. Nonetheless, “Spiritual Genocide” is a true old-school buzzsaw and many of the new thrash would-be kings could learn a lot here. There’s something to be said for not fixing what isn’t broken. A great thrash revival album.

#9 – Warbringer: “Empires Collapse”

I don’t know the dudes in Wabringer, but I feel like I do, having tracked their career from the beginning. One of the great rewards of music journalism (if I dare credit myself with that lofty standard,) is when a band you’ve been telling people about for years fulfills their potential. “Empires Collapse” is the glorious culmination of everything Warbringer can be. This is thrash for the new millennium, a determined march through broken glass during a torrential thunderstorm. Warbringer has arrived and begun their ascent toward the throne.

#8 – Monster Truck: “Furiosity”

Because sometimes, something just plain works. There’s nothing complicated about the album from this Canadian band, but it’s a fun listen; an easy toe-tapper and reminiscent of the breed of records Clutch used to make. Particularly worth listening to if you need an album that’s not all death and destruction. I can’t explain why it’s great, but I keep listening to it, so that’s telling me this record belongs.

#7 – Soilwork: “The Living Infinite”

A double album can almost be seen as a vanity project. It gives into the idea that a single songwriter or group of songwriters can conjure enough material to literally provide double the content and bang for the buck. Secondarily, the double album also provides a window into experiments those self-same writers want to partake in. This record Is a well-blended combination of both those principles, as Soilwork provides glimpses into their possible future while still maintaining their typical sound. It doesn’t all work, but on a double record that’s a given. Enjoy the majority that does.

#6 – Scorpion Child: “Scorpion Child”

I almost missed this record and I’m so glad I didn’t. Scorpion Child is rough around the edges, but brings a lot of Led Zeppelin flavor and classic rock melody to their songs. There’s a solid sense of rock and roll “BIG” to the singles on this record and that’s a clumsy descriptor, but it’s accurate. What’s astonishing is that this is a debut record, and already has this kind of grasp on rock. Plus, I have first-hand evidence that the ladies love this band. That’s definitely gotta count for something, right?

#5 – Devil to Pay: “Fate Is Your Muse”

This is where we really start to see separation between the ‘very good’ albums of 2013 and the beginning of the ‘great’ albums. Occasionally an album gets by because it’s honest, and frankly, it’s fun. “Fate Is Your Muse” is both of those things. After a life-changing epiphany, singer Steve Janiak took the band in a less doom-centric direction, but the music remains very much a heavy, turned to eleven affair. They might be singing about alien abduction or Mayan calendars, but whatever the subject matter, DtP remains the hardest working band in the Midwest. And if Janiak’s Pacers meet my Spurs in the NBA Finals this year, the league will fold from bad ratings because we’ll be the only two people watching. Let’s make it happen.

#4 - Blood Ceremony: “The Eldritch Dark”

If you’re going to go retro, go all the way. It’s so easy to draw apt comparisons between Blood Ceremony and Black Sabbath (one of the view bands that it’s entirely appropriate to do so,) or Blood Ceremony and Jethro Tull, but it’s more than that. Including the sensuous crooning of Alia O’Brien, Blood Ceremony laces their deep rhythms and arranges harmonies with tastes of yesteryear like Cream and The Zombies. The beauty of albums like this is knowing ‘it’ when you hear it. This has ‘it.’

#3 – A Pale Horse Named Death: “Lay My Soul To Waste”

The placement here is a product of a culmination of factors, some of which I admit are highly subjective. Frankly, I miss this sound. The muddy bass, the detuned, fuzzed out growl of the guitar, the overpowering wall of sound that’s seeded with enough melody to make it work are all too commonly forgotten by the genre. A rough combination of Alice in Chains and Type O Negative, A Pale Horse Named Death is more than just a legacy act. “Lay My Soul to Waste” is a home-cooked, soul-affirming, true Brooklyn listen for all metal fans.

#2 – Finntroll: “Blodsvept”

I’m still not sure what to make of this, and that’s part of the reason I enjoy it so much. Mix one part death metal, one part sea shanty and one part game show, and you have an album that is an impossible combination of bouncy fun and metal madness. It doesn’t really make sense when you think about it, so I recommend you not think about it and just plain soak it in. “Blodsvept” needs only be great and it absolutely is. Find it and listen to it. You won’t be disappointed. Any other year this would have been a shoe-in for number one, but it ran into….

#1 – Turisas: “Turisas2013”

Given my review of this record earlier this year, this ranking likely comes as little surprise. Nevertheless, that doesn’t make its selection any less worthy. If it is a rare moment when a band’s talent comes together, it is a rarer gem altogether when you witness the moment a band transcends their genre. Turisas is so much more than a metal band for this album, having learned how to fuse metal with punk, singalong arena rock and however improbable it may be, symphony orchestra. “Turisas2013” is a true metal opera, a seemingly impossible combination of metal grit and Wagnerian bombast. This record, and this band, are once in a generation.

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