steel druhmIn my (vain)glorious time at AMG Conglomerated, I’ve written off almost every year as a substandard time for quality metal. While some of that criticism was well founded, 2013 was the most craptastic year so far! The first half was lackluster and underwhelming, with many major players releasing flat, uninspiring platters. Hell, even the mythical Amorphis fell off their Pedestal of I-ruhn with a dull thud. While the back end of 2013 picked up dramatically, it wasn’t enough to redeem a very sub par year. As if that wasn’t bad enough, 2013 saw the growth of the mind numbingly dumb, hipster chic trend of releasing albums on cassette. CASSETTE? C’mon people! Those cheap, disposable hunks of audio blasphemy weren’t cool back in the dark days before compact discs and they certainly aren’t cool now, so stop it! What’s next – collector 8-tracks? But enough of my imperious ranting – here are the best tunes from a shitty year and here’s to what almost has to be a better 2014!

(ish) Manilla Road – “The Fountain” — As the perennial champions of the cvlt, trve and vnappreciated, Manilla Road soldiers on, doing it their way and paying no heed to the calendar or their bank accounts. While I haven’t loved much of their recent output, this song really grabbed me by the chocobo and wouldn’t let go. Mark Shelton’s oddball voice rolling over a gentle, mellow semi-folk song shouldn’t work so well, but damned if this doesn’t rock! Hail the progenitors of epic metal!

#10. Witherscape – “Dead for a Day” — Dan Swanö’s newest project came out of left field like a musical claymore and blew up right field along with everyone in it (myself included). Welding together the best parts of Opeth, Edge of Sanity, Rapture and Michael Bolton (quiet, you!), “Dead for a Day” is catchy-as-hell, gloomy-as-fuck and awesome-as… really awesome sauce of some kind. Never doubt the Swanö!

#9. End of Green – “Home on Fire” – On their best release to date, obscure German goth merchants shamelessly ripped off Katatonia‘s current sound and style and wrote the best song of their career (and the best of Katatonia‘s recent career as well). How dare they?!

#8. Atlantean Kodex – “Heresiarch (Thousandfaced Moon)” – The first of two cuts off a monumental epic/doom album that really blew me away in a year where few others did. By merging vintage Candlemass with the epic power of Bathory‘s Hammerheart album, they found a monolithic source code from which to craft talismans of true metal power and glory capable of sending chills up the spine of a dead man. This chorus can only be enjoyed fully whilst holding high your sword of wengeance and hatred. Raise it!

#7. Audrey Horne – “The Open Sea” – Considering the band includes Ice Dale of Enslaved fame, this is some amazingly catchy hard rock/metal that holds true to the spirit of Led Zeppelin and Rainbow. The chorus is as memorable as any you’ll hear this year and there’s something so insidiously hooky about the whole song, that it should come with a warning label.

#6. Just Before Dawn – “Precis Innan Gryningen” – Death metal done right should flay the eyelids and tear the heart from one’s chestal cavity. When you combine the talents of Rogga Johansson (all Swedish death metal bands ever) and Anders Biazzi (Blood Mortized), you can count on just such a de-heartening experience. The title track to their debut collaboration approximates the sensation of being chainsawed to pieces while a ravenous demon with a mouthful of gore screams profanities in your ear. Sounds like fun, eh?

#5. Amorphis“Into the Abyss” – Though their latest album was on the disappointing side of the ledger, there were bright spots, the brightest being this one, which reminded me why the Tomi Joutsen-fronted version of the band has been so enjoyable and compelling. Great mood, great atmosphere and a chorus to die for (which incidentally sounds a bit like To Die For). Here’s to better things from these guys in the future.

#4. Týr – “Blood of Heroes” – When I think of Týr, I think of power metal with enough Norse rage to satisfy the angry marauder in my soul. Well, this little ditty is the ultimate soundtrack to your shoreline invasion/holiday sack party. Fist raising riffs, Wotan praising vocals and just enough Manowar approved cheese to grow hair on your steel. B.Y.O.B. really means bring your own broadsword.

#3. Victor Griffin’s In-Graved –  “Love Song for the Dying” – One of the bigger surprises of the year, long-time Pentagram guitarist Victor Griffin’s new project captured the street-level, blue-collar doom sound better than anything I’ve heard since Saint Vitus were in their prime. This cut in particular oozes raw emotion, angst and hurt in such an authentic, sincere way, it’s hard to walk away unaffected. A real gem of a doom song that didn’t get much press this year.

#2. In Solitude – “Pallid Hands” – My favorite Mercyful Fate cover band decided to add in more goth rock, Ghost-worship and Danzig chest thumpery and you know what? They’re all the better for it! “Pallid Hands” is a case study in how these elements work well together as the band cartwheels through vintage Mercyful Fate riffs, Fields of Nephilim moods and into retro occult rock without batting a mascara-stained eyelash. A winning sound was thusly found.

#1. Atlantean Kodex – “Twelve Stars and Azure Gown” – When you take the larger-than-life doom ethos of Candlemass and incorporate loads of John Arch-esque vocal acrobatics taken directly from Awaken the Guardian, you can count on having Steel Druhm’s FULL attention. Atlantean Kodex surely impressed me with their last album, but thanks to majestic, beautifully rendered metal tapestries like this, they really sizzled my bacon in 2013. The power, the glory, the metal, it’s all here, folks. This is a big fucking deal!

Runners Up:

Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats – “Desert Ceremony”
Falkenbach – “Eweroun”
Oliva – “Father Time”
Omnium Gatherum – “The Unknowing”
Warbringer – “The Turning of the Gears”
In Solitude – “Sister”
Audrey Horne – “Redemption Blues”
Tristania – “Requiem”
Serenity – “Age of Glory”
Nightfall – “Hubris”

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  • Stefano Kevin Prince Vitali

    thumbs up for Atlantean Kodex… one of these two songs is gonna make the final cut on my list! Solitude’s good too

  • Madam__X

    Great list!!

  • FutureBeyondSatan

    Nice. Made me revisit a few purchases.
    I have been reading many lists lately. Most seem like fluff. I would like to see you and AMG do a list called: 2013 Releases that I am Metal enough to admit suck!

    • We try to do that on the reviews themselves.

      • FutureBeyondSatan

        Yes, and much obliged.
        I guess I will start…I am Metal enough to admit that Deafheaven’s Sunbather Sucks.

        • That thing sure made a lot of end of year lists, didn’t it?

          • FutureBeyondSatan

            Yeah, way too many. Is it making lists because it is trendy? I am having trouble seeing the connection.

          • I think it is trending a bit, but I suppose its different enough to impress too.

          • hubcapiv

            I literally just started listening to Sunbather today. So far, so OK.

            I think many indie reviewers leave a slot open for an art-noise type of album to prove their “I’m still edgy!” bonafides (see: SunnO))), Swans, Blackjazz).

            And over the past 5-6 years non-Satanic black metal has become an acceptable way to fill that art-noise slot. You get the enjoyably moody, hypnotic abrasiveness without the juvenile corpsepaint, Jew-baiting and horrific production*.

            Which makes Deafheaven this year’s Wolves in the Throne Room or Liturgy (I’d guess beating out Vattnet Viskar and The Body** for that slot).

            And Sunbather has some pretty parts, so I can see why.

            * Personally I am fine with corpsepaint and horrific production. Not so fine with the anti-Semitism.
            ** I know The Body are not black metal, but they are competing for that art-noise slot.

          • Sunbather’s success was more of a slew of non exclusively dedicated to metal outfits giving them the nod of approval. The actual enjoyment of the album will come to personal preference as always, but it will surely not be some kind of lukewarm reaction, it usually is a hate or love extreme. And factor in the usual “hate it because is popular” attitude and you will have the recipe of a controversial but surely widely talked-about record. Personally, I liked it very much.

          • FutureBeyondSatan

            I am glad you liked it. I gave it a chance and was disappointed, thoroughly.
            I see it on year end lists more and more and believe it is a pursuit of relevance. “Look at me, I am so affixed to the underground!” (Deafheaven does not stand alone)
            If relevance is the pursuit, then pick albums that truly move you. Albums you played so much your cross-eyed neighbor knows the words by heart. Albums that impacted your life the way that music should. Stand behind them and be proud. Mine are Wisdom of Crowds and The Painstream. They hit me at the right time and will forever be a part of me. I played the hell out of these two and am proud to pass the knowledge on to all those I know.
            Sunbather will end up at the local used CD shop, lonely among other castaways, awaiting a home.

  • André Snyde Lopes

    Well, now we know what Mr. Druhm’s album of the year is.
    In any case, good list, though I think mine would be completely different. But that’s the beauty of it all isn’t it?

    • Don’t be so sure….

      • hubcapiv

        It’s totes Mumford & Sons, right? I KNEW IT.

        • I do love me some Mumford!

        • Matus Dust

          Its James LaBrie closely followed by new Dream Theater.

  • Ernesto Aimar

    Atlantean Kodex it’s at thjeir best. Whiterscape also rocks supreme. But I have to disagree on Amorphis….I think “Circle” is amazing, album of the year IMO.

  • Excentric_1307

    I bought The White Goddess, but I still can’t get into it because of the vocals. They just feel too thin for my tastes, I suppose. Atlantean Kodex gets the “Band I really wish I could love” award from me.

    • FutureBeyondSatan

      I had to headphone this before it really clicked.

  • jdqc

    the song may remain the same…this is a great list…Witherscape has been the soundtrack of my many hours on the road with outburst from Omnium Gatherum ( will see them with Dark Tranquility in feb,¸. in Montreal).

  • Ralph Plug

    Oh man, that Atlantean Kodex album is so damned brilliant.

  • Zadion

    Something tells me I should have checked out that Atlantean Kodex album…

  • Andres Pintos Nocerino

    shade empire disembodiment

  • Great picks! I missed the Atlantean Kodex album but I have to go get it after hearing those. I would surely have those Tyr and Witherscape tracks in my top 10.

    Some of my other favorites were:

    Carcass – The granulating dark satanic mills
    Ayreon – The Breakthrough
    Most tracks from the new Amon Amarth

  • No Sol Invictus? Too obvious? I love the whole album for sure but that song was too grand to ignore IMO. Really nice picks as usual.

  • The Metal Pigeon

    Funny how much we had in common on our song lists, I picked a Serenity song (Wings of Madness), Hopeless Days by Amorphis, as well as Eweroun by Falkenback, and The Unknowing by O.G. Get outta my head! Interesting list Druhm.

    Also I have a feeling that I’m going to regret not giving The Atlantean Kodex a proper hearing, I meant to but just ran out of time and it was so further down on my list of priorities. I’m listening to these two tracks on your list and enjoying them quite a bit —- oh well, better late then never. There’s so much stuff coming out per year that to try to listen to them all before year’s end will likely result in not listening to the ones you enjoy enough..

  • Helicase

    I’d really hoped to see a review of Altered State, by TesseracT. Of Matter-Retrospect is probably my #1 track for the year