Best of 2013: Top 30
As always, the top albums are for releases from 2013 that are full albums (no EP’s or demos). They also have to be new studio albums for the year, not re-recordings, re-releases, cover songs, or live material. Below the combined TOP 30 are links to each staff members personal “best of” lists which besides the top albums contains such things as best new band, best DVD/Blu-Ray, best metal book of 2013, disappointments of the year, greatest hopes for 2014, personal metal discovery of 2013, and various other related categories. Enjoy!
The Top 30 Heavy Metal Albums of 2013
1. Black Sabbath – 13 (Vertigo/Universal Records)
When it was announced that the original Black Sabbath would reunite to record a new album, their first new material in over three decades, fans were both ecstatic while some were skeptical. While the album wasn’t rated at #1 in all of our personal lists, it was highly placed in many of our staffs list, thereby slightly surpassing #2. Where 13 really succeeds is in providing some much needed closure to a heavy metal journey 40+ years strong. The fact that Ozzy, Tony, and Geezer felt like that they still had one more in them is reason enough to give 13 a fair listen. Decide for yourself. Credit the band for getting it together and putting this album out, perhaps the passing of Dio and other metal icons along with Iommi’s cancer providing the impetus needed and realization that there might be no tomorrow. Ultimately, 13 contains many of the trademarks of early Sabbath while coming across as more consistent than say the debut. Perhaps a bit too slow, and lacking any real experimental dash, 13 cannot deliver Sabbath back to the glory days, and really who could expect it, even though it is the first Sabbath album to ever reach #1 on the U.S. Billboard charts. However, there is no question that this comes very close to the sound of the early 70s with a different and modern production.
2. Carcass – Surgical Steel (Nuclear Blast Records)
Coming in at a VERY close second is the album that marks the true return of one of the greats of extreme metal, Carcass! With Surgical Steel, England’s Carcass have seemingly done the impossible. Despite a 17-year recording hiatus, they have unleashed an album that not only sounds both relevant and fresh. Surgical Steel is a return to form of mid-period Carcass at their finest, and is performed with the zeal and finesse of a band in their prime. It doesn’t just meet expectations, it far surpasses them.
3. Motorhead – Aftershock (UDR Records)
Age and eons of legendarily unrepentant bad habits finally caught up with venerable Motörhead mainman Ian “Lemmy” Kilmister this year, landing him in the hospital, prompting some show cancellations, a much-ballyhooed abbreviated set at Wacken last summer and now the postponement of a European tour. Still, Lemmy’s lifestyle probably would have killed anyone else long ago, and despite these bumps in the road the soon-to-be 68 year old was back at it with Motörhead – at least in the studio – for the trio’s 21st studio album. Aftershock is rock solid and satisfies throughout. It’s well-balanced, bristling with fire and verve and there is nary a dud to be found in any of the album’s 14 tracks. Well played, gentlemen.
4. Helloween – Straight Out of Hell (The End Records)
The godfathers of power metal come in at #4 with their 14th studio album. Helloween is aware of their legacy, yet keeps a firm eye to the future, cognizant of their importance but never content to ride solely on the laurels of the past. It is this commitment that makes STRAIGHT OUT OF HELL such a welcome and appreciated album. The album has the required levels of anger, speed, and even tender moments with ballads that actually do not suck. Bravo!
5. Queensryche – Queensryche (Century Media)
The second Queensrÿche album released this year but this one is the band vs. the singer. It is very confusing for fans as both are using the Queensrÿche name. This self titled album is 3/4’s of the classic band along with the addition of Parker Lundgren on guitar and Todd LaTorre replacing Geoff Tate on vocals. Fans can rejoice in the fact that we have an amazing and classic ‘rÿche album to enjoy and with it’s placement so high on our list, it’s clear which version of the band has unleashed the better album!
6. Death Angel – The Dream Calls for Blood
It would seem the fourth time is the charm for Death Angel as their comeback enters its 12th year – which, ironically, is longer than their first go-round. With the ongoing lineup turmoil – made all the more complicated by the fact that the members were once all cousins – seemingly now settled, the band are in top form and The Dream Calls For Blood is the most solid, consistent and best-sounding album they’ve done since 1989’s Act III!
7. Dream Theater – Self Titled (Roadrunner Records)
The 12th studio album from the prog metal masters is simply self entitled. It is also the first Dream Theater album with drum-virtuoso Mike Mangini.
8. Stratovarius – Nemesis (EarMusic)
NEMESIS is arguably the best Stratovarius album since INFINITE. The lineup is pretty stable with Lauri and Matias really settling in over the last three studio albums. The individual performances are excellent as Timo Kotipelto puts forward his best work in years. Catchy, fun, heavy and dynamic, NEMESIS is everything a fan of the band could want.
9. Airbourne – Black Dog Barking (Roadrunner Records)
Here we have the third studio album by the Australian hard rockers, Airbourne. The band’s brand of energetic AC/DC homage for three albums indicates that the band is hopefully here to rock us for many years to come.
10. Saxon – Sacrifice (UDR Music)
As Saxon marches towards its 35th year of activity, the band manages to somehow stay more active than ever, with a constant stream of albums, DVDs, and tours. Incredibly, they have avoided stagnation, and continue to release albums that are more entertaining and vital than bands a quarter of their age. Saxon’s 20th studio album, SACRIFICE, is another victory for the mighty Saxon. The band is undoubtedly one of the all time greats of heavy metal and SACRIFICE further solidifies and expands their legacy.
11. Exhumed – Necrocracy
This is death metal the way it 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. Necrocracy kills, plain and simple.
12. Gorguts – Colored Sands (Season of Mist)
The brutal force of Canada’s Gorguts is unleashed in their latest album COLORED SANDS. This album is a further journey into their twisted psyche. From opening track ‘Le toit du monde’ to the last ‘Reduced to Silence’, the album takes the listener into the deeper realms of their own mind. The abrasive and torrential technical death metal creeps over you raising once again the flag of Canadian technical death metal.
13. Tobias Sammet’s Avantasia – The Mystery of Time
The Mystery of Time is the sixth full-length album by Tobias Sammet’s rock opera project Avantasia. As always there is an impressive list of guest vocalists including Joe Lynn Turner (ex-Rainbow, ex-Yngwie Malmsteen ex-Deep Purple), Michael Kiske (ex-Helloween, Place Vendome, Unisonic), Biff Byford (Saxon), Ronnie Atkins (Pretty Maids), Eric Martin (Mr. Big), Bob Catley (Magnum), and Cloudy Yang.
14. Fen – Dustwalker (Code666)
Fen have unleashed something quite special with this exceptional piece of art. A strongly distinctive sound that is as enthralling as it is technically proficient. With a firm direction that never looses its way and one that isn’t afraid to delve into progressive territory the only thing left to say is go check these guys out.
15. Voivod – Target Earth (Century Media)
2013 was the year of VoiVod’s 30th anniversary. The year in which they released studio album number 13; Target Earth. It’s a number that some consider unlucky – but not for Voivod! Piggy’s absence is noticeable, but not as a missing piece of the picture, more the final focus on it. The guitars are angular, the bass dissonant, and Snake’s voice still has that slightly nasal rough quality that makes it sound beyond human, but not machine made. The album plumbs depths that most bands can only swim above, yet doesn’t struggle for air, and it seems that the weirdness hasn’t lessened over time with many of the tracks sounding like they missed their meds.
16. Tyr – Valkyrja (Metal Blade Records)
Raise the drinking horns and call homage to the old gods. Folk metal band Tyr are back with their seventh studio album, Valkyrja. Continuing with the Viking theme, Valkyrja were the choosers of the slain, a host of female figures that pick the soldiers who will die in battle and rise to Valhalla, leaving the other half to pass to Folkyangr governed by Freyja. From beginning to end this album is filled with Tyr’s usual catchy melodies, and the work they have put into this is obvious, compiling a polished performance.
17. Annihilator – Feast (UDR)
FEAST is the fourteenth full length studio album from Ottawa’s seasoned metal veterans Annihilator. The core duo of band mastermind and multi-instrumentalist Jeff Waters and vocalist Dave Padden has been intact a good ten years now, making this one of the longest standing musical collaborations in Annihilator history (a history dating all the way back to 1984). Fans of Annihilator would do well to secure a copy!
18. Ghost – Infestissumam (Universal Music)
Some will hate INFESTISSUMAM because it’s different, some will hate it because it’s not different enough, and others will hate it just because Ghost is no longer their own little secret indulgence. But inevitably none of it matters anyway; the new album will only perpetuate Ghost’s presence in the metal community even further because they’re still a unique commodity and they still write great songs. Step away from the hype and your own unrealistic expectations and give these 10 new tracks the attention they deserve, and you’ll find INFESTISSUMAM to be exactly the album that it needed to be.
19. Gloryhammer – Tales From The Kingdom Of Fife (Napalm Records)
Even if your tolerance for epic, symphonic Power Metal is low, this is one of the better albums you are likely to hear in this style. The album has all the required power metal elements: speed, power, soaring vocals, blazing solos, pounding double-kick drums, orchestrations and dynamic song-writing all presented with top-notch personal and individual performances by the musicians. Thomas Winkler delivers the fantastic tale of Angus McFife without the slightest bit of irony and his powerful dramatic voice really brings the story to life. From the brooding and ominous, classically-fuelled opening narration to the dying notes of the final epic, every minute of this record is Power Metal heaven. The big sing-along choruses and orchestration give the whole album a larger than life feel, which is essential to this type of Metal.
20. Death Dealer – War Master (Steel Cartel)
Death Dealer is a super-groups / all-star project that lives up to it’s potential. Sean Peck (vocals, Cage) and Stu Marshall (guitar, Empires of Eden) joined forces and recruited Mike Davis (ex-Lizzy Borden, Halford) on bass. A pair of heavy-hitters, in the form of ex-Manowar members, Ross The Boss (guitar) and Rhino (drums), fill out the ranks. That line-up should be enough for you to go buy it. WAR MASTER presents ten cuts of Metal so flawless and true you would have to have a PhD in Metallurgy to detect any impurity. From the ultra-sonic opening screams of the opening cut, to the relentless double-kick attack of Rhino to riffs stacked up to the sky, this album is as about Metal as you can get.
21. Timo Tolkki’s Avalon – The Land Of New Hope (Frontiers Records)
Musically, this is exactly what you would want to hear from Timo Tolkki – speedy power metal with lots of keyboards and orchestration, powerful vocals, and some ballads. Vocals from greats like Michael Kiske (1 song), Rob Rock (five songs), Elize Ryd (6 songs), Russell Allen (3 songs), Sharon Den Adel (1 song), and Tony Kakko (1 song), really add to the shades on the album and makes this something special, arguably Timo’s best stuff since his departure from Stratovarius.
22. Yngwie Malmsteen – Spellbound (Rising Force)
SPELLBOUND is Yngwie’s 19th studio album and is some of his best work. The Swedish Viking is at it again and certainly delivers with SPELLBOUND. SPELLBOUND is a must for the Yngwie faithful as well as for anyone who worships the guitar.
23. Subrosa – More Constant Than The Gods (Profound Lore Records)
SubRosa is a name you need to become familiar with, and MORE CONSTANT THAN THE GODS is an album that any fan of doom/sludge/stoner/original heavy music should have in their collection. In a year that’s already given us so many exceptional doom metal releases, this easily ranks high and we suspect many of you may feel the same after giving it a listen.
24. Deicide – In The Minds of Evil (Century Media Records)
“After around 25 years now of performing their vehemently anti-Christian brand of death metal to an audience of unpromising and unforgiving fans, one can only marvel at Deicide’s relentless energy and effort that they still put into both their records and live shows. Since their formation as Amon in 1987, Deicide have earned a reputation as one of the most controversial and intimidating metal bands, which is still kept up to this day. The latest example of this is the brand new album on Century Media Records, entitled In the Minds of Evil.”
25. Mourning Beloveth – Formless
Mourning Beloveth are a doom/death metal band from Ireland.
26. Altar of Plagues – Teethed Glory and Injury (Candlelight Records)
Teethed Glory and Injury the third and final studio album by the Irish black metal band Altar of Plagues. The band’s brand of black metal incorporates ambient, progressive, and even elements of electronica into their own unique blend.
27. Fates Warning – Darkness In A Different Light (Inside Out Music)
“Nine years in coming, DARKNESS IN A DIFFERENT LIGHT comes at the end of the longest period of time the band has ever taken between new album releases. Darkness In A Different Light is almost startling in its comparatively harsher tone and heaviness, which is apparent from the get-go as opener “One Thousand Fires” reaches right out and grabs you by the throat. The typically sleek guitar lines from Matheos and Fates returnee Frank Aresti (making his first appearance since 1994’s Inside Out) have a decidedly rougher, crunchier edge and new drummer Bobby Jarzombek is more aggressive and hits a lot harder than the jazzier Mark Zonder, teaming with bassist Joey Vera to provide a sturdy backbone throughout. Vocalist Ray Alder, too, delivers a huskier performance that emphasizes mid-range and only soars to the upper register on the album’s more measured material, like “Firefly” or “Lighthouse.””
28. Cult of Luna – Vertikal (Indie Recordings)
“Cult of Luna have definitely upped their game, with all the raw ferocity of their earlier material and plenty of experimental avenues being explored. However, it is the wholeness of the record and its storytelling quality residing underneath that makes this their most cohesive record to date. Overall, quite an overwhelming piece of music that requires time and commitment to get the full effect, but once you do you wont want to listen to anything else for some time.”
29. Rotting Christ – Kata Ton Daimona Eaytoy (Season of Mist)
“KATA TON DAIMONA EAYTOY means “Do What Thou Wilt” and according to the infamous English occultist Aleister Crowley (1875–1947) this “shall be the whole of the law” of the coming Æon of Horus. This album takes the musical and lyrical concepts that ROTTING CHRIST have developed on their two previous releases “Theogonia” (2007) and “AEALO” (2010) another step further. Mastermind Sakis Tolis creates mystical atmospheres by delving deep into ancient secrets and myths from the Sumerians, Incas, Persians and other cultures. ROTTING CHRIST skillfully vary their highly individual sound with female vocals, piano, bagpipes, horns and by other means. The excellent songwriting of “KATA TON DAIMONA EAYTOY” is extremely confident and displays a maturity and perfection born out of long years of composing and experience. This band knows exactly what it is doing.”
30. Windhand – Soma (Relapse Records)
Doom fans, pay attention – if you’re not already familiar with Windhand, you need to be. Much like the sedating effects of its pharmaceutical namesake, Windhand’s sophomore opus SOMA lulls listeners into a doom induced sense of euphoria, whilst a throbbing ache resonates under the surface, bleeding through to create a listening experience that’s equitable to pain induced bliss. Following up last year’s excellent self-titled debut, SOMA treads carefully as to not upset the formula that’s garnered the band so much (rightfully deserved) attention in 2013, while also not retreading that formula so closely as to sound redundant. For the most part, Windhand succeeds in said task, and the resulting 6 tracks make for a solid follow up effort.