Angry Metal Guy has become an interwebs institution. You might not realize this, but this is my fifth Top 10(ish) Records o’ the Year since I started this as a lone Internet Metal Warrior back in 2009, reviewing for my literally dozens of readers, none of whom commented. Can’t believe it? Try these on for size. It’s impressive how far this little blog that could has come, and it’s amazing how much I used to review! Several CDs a week! Incredible. Anyway, the times they are achangin’, but the one thing that isn’t changing is that I have opinions and galldarnit, I’m going to tell you them.
But before I do that: it’s important to pay a tribute to Steel Druhm and Madam X who despite their inferior opinions have helped to keep this blog kicking and screaming while I’ve been off doing things that don’t involve the Internet or heavy metal. They have been stalwarts defining this blog (so much so, in fact, that I now regularly receive e-mails addressed to “Mr. Steel,” despite me being the bossity boss boss still [YOU HEAR THAT, EMAIL SENDERS!? RESPECT MY AUTHORITAY!]). You should all be aware that without these two people organizing things and contravening my orders behind my back, Angry Metal Guy would not be up and running.
I also would like to thank our long list of current contributors who like the pests they are continue to reproduce. But most importantly I want to thank Alex Franquelli who left us at the end of the year. His departure marks the first time that a contributor got too old to contribute and quit. Most of the time people just shit out on us and stop responding to their e-mails and start avoiding you on Mass Effect 3 multiplayer (here’s looking at you Lord Doom), but Alex was man enough to say that he really just doesn’t like metal so much anymore and throw in his hat. His unique and engaging writing will be missed. Now, if only we could get Happy Metal Guy to throw in his hat… White Wizzard? Really?
Fair warning, though, 2013 might be my last Top 10(ish) for some time. I, too, am getting old, and this year has been a remarkably difficult year for me in terms of balance, largely because the sheer amount of music has been hard for me to keep up with due to having a job that is expected to be a vocation. Having an avocation when you have a vocation is tough. So, this year you’ll not only be getting this, but a special list (to be posted and explained later); but enjoy these, just in case AngryMetalGuy.com might be AngryMetalGuy-less for all intents and purpose in 2014.
And without further ado, here’s my Top 10(ish) Records o’ 2013.
#(ish): Beaten to Death // Dødsfest! — When Jordan Campbell reviewed these guys and I saw the cover I had sort of a “WTF?” moment. Then I listened to it. Beaten to Death‘s particular approach to grind surprised me, excited me, and led me to purchase the record immediately ($4 on Bandcamp? A worthy expenditure that costs less than a sugary drink at a chain coffee joint). The unusual tone, the use of melody, and the counterintuitive extremity all introduced something that I had never really heard before and it’s so, so good. This could be higher on the list, but it’s a pretty late addition.
#10: Witherscape // The Inheritance (vinyl mix) — In a year when we’re talking about The Loudness War with louder and louder voices, Dan Swanö appears to be getting the message. While The Inheritance was released with a more traditionally loud master, the CD comes with the fully dynamic mix that is magical and makes an awesome record even better. Swanö and his mustachioed partner Ragnar (the metallist [non-Torbjörn] name ever?!) have produced the best Opeth/Edge of Sanity-style melodeath record in years—and it sounds so damned good.
#9: Steven Wilson // The Raven that Refused to Sing (and Other Stories) — From the opening bass salvo on “Luminol” I knew that The Raven that Refused to Sing (and Other Stories) wasn’t just an average album. With a strong ’70s feel—dat flute!—and awesome production and an amazing lineup of guest musicians, TRtRtS(aOS) created an unavoidably addictive addition to my record collection in 2013. Between traditional Wilsonesque post-Floyd prog and the strong instrumentation and improvised feel, TRtRtS(aOS) is my favorite Steven Wilson record ever and belongs in any prog fan’s collection.
#8: Sahg // Delusions of Grandeur — On some level I think that Black Sabbath‘s 13 should have sounded like Delusions of Grandeur. Sahg‘s follow-up to its very good III is better than its predecessor and should not be overlooked. The choruses and song-writing on Delusions of Grandeur remind the listener of the glory days of metal, but still have a modern charm that doesn’t go missing. The whole record is an ass-kicker, dropping awesome riff after awesome chorus, but it’s capped off with the extraordinary closing track “Sleeper’s Gate to the Galaxy” which is probably the best closer of the year. I can’t get over how much this vocalist sounds like Ozzy, by the way.
#7: Týr // Valkyrja — True metal still has a home and that home is apparently in the Faroe Islands. From the opening strains of “Blood of Heroes” I knew that Valkyrja was going to be a special record. As I said to Steel Druhm on Angry Metal Chat™ that day, “No pooch was screwn in the making of this record.” Valkyrja is chock full of sharp riffs, sharper melodies, and excellent performances. These Faroe Islanders do their Scandinavian brethren proud by pounding out track after track of great trad metal. Bonus: the “Where Eagles Dare” cover is awesome.
#6: October Falls // The Plague of a Coming Age — October Falls‘ The Plague of a Coming Age is one of those sleeper records that people seem to have forgotten about as the year has gone on—and that’s too bad, because it’s the band’s best album ever and easily one of the most complete of the year. I was hooked on this one from the opening strains of “Bloodlines.” The production is perfect, the songwriting is crisp, smart, and still atmospheric enough to evoke the airy, depressing feel that is so hard to do right. October Falls keeps getting better and that excites the hell out of me.
#5: Turisas // Turisas2013 — Turisas‘ much-maligned Turisas2013 is a record that has refused to let go during this process. It’s a weird record, but it seems that no matter how far from their roots these guys get, I keep falling for their unique vision. The strange lyrics, the ’80s rock influence, the progressive tendencies, and the sharp pop songwriting make Turisas2013 one of the most fascinating and difficult records of the year—from the perspective of a fan. But the record is maybe their most accessible ever, as well. Sure, I still sometimes feel like the thing is half-baked, but since I still can’t stop listening to it it’s about time I give up on trying to understand why I like it and just accept that I really, really do.
#4: Haken // The Mountain — What do you get when you take a band that doesn’t sound like Dream Theater and then compare them to Dream Theater? A happy Angry Metal Guy when they turn out to not sound like Dream Theater! In this case, Haken gave us the Leprous record that we were all dying to hear. The epic songwriting and the Queen-influenced vocal parts make for endlessly entertaining listening, and “Cockroach King” is one of the best songs of the year. Truly, an exceptional record from an exceptional band.
#3: Trials // In the Shadow of Swords — This is without a doubt my surprise of the year. Trials‘ unique take on the thrash genre is a refreshing breath of heavy, melodic, interesting music(al air) in a sea of retro bands, lo-fi basement dwellers who are crawling up their own asses and pretentious hipsters. There are no pretentions here; only sharp riffs, epic songwriting, and the freshest thrash I’ve heard in a long damned time. This is a mandatory purchase. Now if only they’d’ve turned Usha up.
#2: Ayreon // The Theory of Everything — The double record is so done. Most bands don’t deserve it and I do not have the time or the patience for most bands that think they do. The Theory of Everything defied those sentiments for me, however. Packed with amazing, thematic songwriting, and stellar vocal performances, TToE is epic, immersive, and just flat-out excellent. While I have some gripes about a thing or two here and there, the music and the performances are so strong that it competed heavily for Record o’ the Year. The poofy-haired cheesehead strikes again! Now record another Guilt Machine record, Arjen!
#1: The Ocean // Pelagial — I’m a sucker for epic concept albums and Pelagial is one of the best that I’ve heard. What makes Pelagial so special is how many layers it has and how immersive it is. Because it was written as an instrumental record first, the musical elements are perfectly composed to be as giving and immersive as possible. The instrumental disc stands alone as a heavy and giving album. What’s so impressive is that Loïc Rosetti’s vocal performance and lyrical approach improves an already excellent record. His work is emotional and evocative, threading the needle between cleans and screams with artistic vision and stand out professionalism. Pelagial is an epic success, and the kind of record that makes you want to put on your headphones and get lost in the deep waters of the band’s vision.
Honorable Mentions (in no particular order):
- Ulver // Messe I.X-VI.X — Ulver‘s best record since Perdition City is a thoughtful wandering into classical music and it works really well. This isn’t an easy listen, but it’s a very cool one.
- Amon Amarth // Deceiver of the Gods — Deceiver of the Gods was Record o’ the Month for July and it was a great example of Amon Amarth‘s sound in the modern era. But honestly, it just felt like a kind of predictable choice for my end of year list. I enjoy the heck out of this album, but there’s records I’d like to pimp more.
- Leprous // Coal — Coal has grown on me. It’s a weird record, repetitive but emotive. It started out as total hate when I first heard it, but here it is on my mentions list. A strange but cool record.
- Thyrfing // De ödelösa — One of the more pleasant surprises of 2013, in my opinion, was the rebirth of Thyrfing. These Swedes rocked out an awesome record that I feel is a bit hampered by the airiness of the production. Still, not to be scoffed at.
- Sleepers Awake // Transcension — Thanks to FtAG’s Top 10(ish) this is a late addition. Weird sludgy Opethian strains that kind of remind me of Mastodon if they sounded like Iron Thrones.
- Vhöl // Vhöl — Another late addition is Vhöl, who put out one of the most unique albums I’ve heard this year. They’re one of those bands that has the good sense to crib their riffs from such a wide variety of bands that they don’t sound like anyone but themselves.
Disappointments o’ the Year:
- Orphaned Land // All Is One — This one hurts. Orphaned Land nailed home what I think is still one of the most perfect records I own on ORwarriOR and then mailed it in with All Is One. Regardless of motivation, this record isn’t good. It’s monotonous and while it has its moments (see: my Top 10[ish] Songs o’ 2013), those are few and far between.
- Ihsahn // Das seelenbrechen — I shouldn’t be disappointed by now, should I? Ihsahn has more bad records than good, by my counting, and yet somehow I get excited and let down every time the guy puts something out.
- Rhapsody of Fire // Dark Wings of Steel — Yeah, so, this one was definitely more expected than the others. With Luca Turilli leaving the band, the writing on Dark Wings of Steel isn’t great and the guitar solos leave much to be desired. There’s a reason Luca Turilli’s Rhapsody stayed signed to Nuclear Blast and Rhapsody of Fire was dropped. Still, I was pulling for these little Italians that could. Unfortunately, they couldn’t.
- Fleshgod Apocalypse // Labyrinth — While moving in the right direction, Fleshgod still dropped the ball pretty hard on this one because of the production. Still, it encouraged me to hook up with the Metal-Fi guys to do Angry Metal-Fi, so that’s definitely a silver lining.