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”