Chris C's blog

The Top Ten Albums Of 2013

This year has been one of remarkable depth. While every year features a few select albums I love dearly, not many have a wealth of others I would feel bad about neglecting. Often, by the time I get to the tenth slot on my list, I'm struggling to find choices that I feel passionately about. I'm not sure if that's an indictment of the quality of most releases, or a statement as to my particular taste. So the fact that this year I did not have to struggle to find albums to mention, but had to carefully consider which ones would make the last few slots, is a bit of a strange turn of events. Really good albums from newcomers like Witherscape and Caligula's Horse narrowly missed out on inclusion, and veterans Fates Warning put out their best album ever, again narrowly missing out on making the list. Leaving them out was a tough call, as was not being able to place Avantasia's latest album somewhere on the list. Avantasia is usually a sure winner in my book, so not finding them on the list is the single biggest surprise of the year.

Before we commence, I want to hand out some awards:

Label Of The Year: Inside Out

In what was another strong year for progressive music, no label did a better job of delivering it than Inside Out, who led the way with three albums in my Top Ten, not to mention the very good Fates Warning album that almost made the cut. It was a banner year for the label, and 2014 looks to once again be strong for them, with a new Transatlantic album leading my most anticipated releases list.

Best Album I Shouldn't Have Enjoyed But Did: Carcass – Surgical Steel

I'm not a death metal guy, which I've said more than once. But every so often there is an album of that kind that I can enjoy and appreciate because it transcends the usual standards. Carcass had done that before with their legendary “Heartwork”, and come close to doing it again with “Surgical Steel”. Clearly, this was the best extreme metal album of the year.

Best Newcomer (not made up of well known musicians): One Second Hotel

Here's a little band I caught wind of through a passing recommendation, and I'm glad I did. Their debut EP is available as a free download from their website, and it's definitely worth checking out. They mix modern heavy metal and progressive tinges with striking melody. I'm very hopeful for what a full-length album from them will sound like. If these songs are any indication, they have a world of potential.

Album Review: Deicide - In The Minds Of Evil

Deicide's career has been one long roller coaster ride. They helped set the standard of American death metal with their first two albums, then fell into disrepair as stagnation set in. As all this was happening, I was completely oblivious to anything they had done, since death metal still only existed in my periphery. It wasn't until the Deicide that became famous was fractured that I came on board. The resulting album, “The Stench Of Redemption”, was a remarkable album, and the shot in the arm the flagging Deicide brand needed.

Album Review: Artillery - Legions

I chuckle as announcements roll out for albums, and every band that was formed sometime in the 80's described itself as 'legendary'. It's simply impossible for all of them to be such, but more than that, it amuses me how much revisionism has occurred of what the time was really like. Bands that have reformed and claim status as kings of metal were utterly forgotten during their initial runs, which makes it a little hard for me to believe anything they claim for a legacy.

Album Review: Gift Of Gods - Receive [EP]

I sometimes wonder about the people who make and listen to the most extreme types of metal; how they came to embrace such a fringe element of heavy music. I have a hard time imagining people jumping straight from what they would hear on the radio to full-on black metal or grindcore, and yet so little of the traditional forms of metal remains in those styles that I often struggle to find any connection at all. Surely, they must have been fans of less abrasive forms of metal first, but it's more a guess on my part than an actual statement of fact.

Album Review: Ayreon - The Theory Of Everything

As the resident prog guy here, it's a bit surprising that this is my first experience immersing myself in a full Ayreon album. Arjen Anthony Lucassen's project has sprawled through a series of double albums, amassing some of the greatest talent in the rock and metal world, and giving him standing as one of the biggest figures in all of progressive music. This time around, after the ending of the original storyline and a hiatus for other projects, Ayreon returns with a new story, and a new focus.

Hail Of Bullets - III: The Rommel Chronicles

Hail Of Bullets did something remarkable with their first album; they made a record that actually sounded like an army of enemy tanks storming into town ready to crush anything in their paths. These death metal veterans made a statement right out of the gate, becoming one of the biggest and most important death metal bands since the nascent days, all with one record. That they were able to then turn around and use their second album to further their sound with new elements and more expansive songwriting meant that this was no one trick pony.

Album Review: Bad Salad - Puzzled [EP]

Last year, Bad Salad came out of nowhere with a debut album that blew me away. “Uncivilized” was, and still is, one of the best Dream Theater inspired collections of progressive metal not to come from the masters themselves. That album showed not only that Bad Salad was a band with limitless potential, but that they were emerging fully formed, ready to take on the heavyweights of progressive metal with an approach that was all-encompassing and exciting.

Album Review: Stryper - No More Hell To Pay

It's time for a little theology lesson. Stryper has gotten a bad reputation over the course of their career for their beliefs, but the people who criticize them are either intellectually lazy, or dangerously ignorant. For all the bands that sing about, if not outright praise, Satan and other demons, they miss the bigger picture. The opposite of God is not Satan, it's nothingness. Like yin and yang, light and dark, you can't have one without the other. So congratulations all you heathen black and death metal bands, you may not know it, but you're exactly like Stryper.

Album Review: Skeletonwitch - Serpents Unleashed

If I've learned anything about black metal over the years, it's that it's as much about an ethos as it is about music. Black metal has become a philosophy for people who don't understand what philosophy is (I'm a philosopher, so I'm allowed to say that). The legions of black metal bands, and the fans who pledge allegiance to the crusty heaps of brutality they create, use music as sort of a religion. Instead of worshiping a deity, they grovel at the feet of misanthropic noise.

Album Review: Sepultura - The Mediator Between Head And Hands Must Be The Heart

Not being a thrash fan, nor of a certain age, the name Sepultura exists to me as an artifact of history. I've read about the band's tumultuous history, but having not lived through the controversy it created, nor being retroactively interested in the music the band made, I have no opinion to offer on the subject, nor any biases one way or the other to color my opinion on this record. Sepultura, for all they have accomplished, and the legacy they've created, is just another band to me.

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