Best of 2013 – Peter Atkinson
1. Carcass – Surgical Steel
Following a 17-year recording hiatus, Surgical Steel was the perfect comeback album for England’s resuscitated Carcass. The band produced a death metal masterpiece that not only sounded fresh, new and vital, it raised the bar for contemporary metal, much as they had done already with the gore-grind of their first two albums and the melodic death metal benchmark Heartwork – 20-some years ago. That they continue to amaze is, in and of itself, amazing.
2. Ulcerate – Vermis
The fourth album from this New Zealand trio, Vermis was an avalanche of swirling, elliptical riffing and chaotic drum salvos and stilted tempos that offered the technical dexterity and brutality of Morbid Angel in their prime, the eccentricities of Gorguts and the turbulent rhythmic dynamics of Neurosis – all while managing to sound very little like any of them in particular. That just three guys were making all this glorious noise was nothing short of astonishing.
3. Fleshgod Apocalypse – Labyrinth
Italy’s Fleshgod Apocalypse put the emphasis on the “symphonic” in the symphonic black/death metal of their wildly ambitious third full-length. Fleshgod took everything to a whole other level of extreme here, creating an staggering the wall of sound with cascading guitars, grandiose keyboards and orchestration and some of the fastest drumming imaginable, and lathering on the layer upon layer of vocals, including some genuine female operatic warbling. Fittingly, to go along with labrynthian arrangements, album is built around a concept based on the Labyrinth of Knososs – the maze from Greek mythology that held the Minotaur.
4. Rivers of Nihil – The Conscious Seed of Light
These Reading, Pa., upstarts did just about everything right on their remarkable debut full-length. Ass-ripping, challenging tunes with a unique spin on progressive death metal, heady lyrics, cool Dan Seagrave cover art and crackling production from Hate Eternal mainman Erik Rutan combined here to make The Conscious Seed of Light the year’s top death metal debut.
5. Shining – One One One
Once an acoustic jazz outfit, Norwegian avant-gardists Shining created their own metallic sub-genre with 2010’s phenomenal Blackjazz, which fused the disparate elements of wailing jazz, industrial clangor, hard rock hookiness and thrash metal energy. The follow-up One One One could almost be called “blackfunk” thanks to its bouncy, swinging bottom end and loads of groove that go along with churning guitar salvos and frontman Jørgen Munkeby’s shit-fit vocals and John Zorn-like saxophone freakouts. Nobody sounds like these guys, which these days is really saying something.
6. Exhumed – Necrocracy
With their second album since re-animating in 2010, California’s Exhumed offer death metal the wayit should be, but hardly is anymore: complex but still compact, well-played without being wanky, brutal without going to ridiculous extremes, and listenable, if not inviting, in spite of its inherent ghastliness.
7. Gloria Morti – Lateral Constraint
With a definite flair for the dramatic, and a taste for the blasphemous, Finland’s Gloria Morti turned in a masterful symphonic blackened death metal mashup with their fourth album. The band made liberal use of keyboards/synths as a background element, employing them to add depth and bigness to their sound, while being careful to not seem overblown or needlessly theatrical. The effect was brutality with a sense of grace or elegance, especially with the rich, crystalline production. Brilliant stuff.
8. Suffocation – Pinnacle of Bedlam
The fourth album since their comeback, and first since 1995 without departed drummer Mike Smith, Pinnacle of Bedlam showed a tauter, tidier, thrashier side to death metal legends Suffocation, with their technical tendencies taking a backseat to big riffs and vicious delivery. A different kind of brutality, but brutal nonetheless.
9. The Black Dahlia Murder – Everblack
A new rhythm section helped get The Black Dahlia Murder back on track after a couple workman-like releases. Loosier, livelier, grittier and more ferocious than they’ve been in a few years, Everblack showed with jarring authority that the band still meant business.
10. Holy Grail – Ride The Void
Their second album Oakland re-thrashers Holy Grail harnessed some of the sheer abandon of their 2010 debut, Crisis In Utopia, tightened up the songwriting and performances and blended power with clever melodies. Delivering booming, moshable hooks and infectious sing-songy choruses by the truckload, not to mention loads of glorious guitar harmonies and shreddy, yet not too indulgent, soloing, Ride The Void was darn near a perfect thrash album.
11. Motörhead – Aftershock
12. Broken Hope – Omen Of Disease
13. Death Angel – The Dream Calls For Blood
14. Amon Amarth – Deceiver of the Gods
15. The Dillinger Escape Plan – One Of Us Is The Killer
16. Aborym – Dirty
17. Fates Warning – Darkness In A Different Light
18. Immolation – Kingdom of Conspiracy
19. Ihsahn – Das Seelenbrechen
20. TesseracT – Altered State
Best Live Album
Testament – Dark Roots of Thrash
Kreator – Dying Alive
Anathema – Universal
Best Metal Book
Slayer 66 & 2/3: The Jeff & Dave Years, A Metal Band Biography …
Testament – Dark Roots of Thrash
1. Carcass at the Maryland Deathfest
2. Cattle Decapitation’s 25-minute set during the Summer Slaughter Tour show in Silver Spring, Md.
Best New Band
Rivers of Nihil
Major Events in the Metal World
1. Carcass’ stunning comeback album
2. Jeff Hanneman’s death
3. Randy Blythe’s legal drama in the Czech Republic