As I gaze out the windows of the AMG offices (located hundreds of miles beneath the Earth’s crust, so I’m not sure why we have windows), I can’t help but wistfully reflect on my time with this fine metal institution. In just a few short years, the site has gone from one man’s labor of love to a major force in the metal blogosphere with a staff of ten dedicated writers, and though the journey wasn’t always easy, it’s been exceedingly interesting and rewarding.
As we’ve grown, we’ve undergone the inevitable changes. Regretfully, AMG himself isn’t able to contribute regularly these days and Alex left us to pursue other avenues of arcane enlightenment. On the plus side, the renowned Jordan Campbell became a contributor and we recruited talented new blood like Grymm, JF Williams and Kronos. Through all the burn outs, IT brown outs, NSA scrutiny, internal squabbles and ritualistic hazing [Definitely my favorite part… – AMG], the staff remains ever dedicated to making this the best metal review site on the interwebs and I’m proud of what this dysfunctional United Nations of Metal has accomplished.
Thanks to the AMG staff for being so cool, quirky and easy to work with (yes, even you, Happy Metal Guy). Being surrounded by so many good writers sure makes my editing duties a lot easier and I don’t even care that one of you surreptitiously signed me up for Cat Fancier Monthly © (so feel free to own up to it, whomever you are, no repercussions).
To all our readers, thanks for your support and participation and I look forward to arguing with you in the new year. Hails!
(ish): In Vain // Ænigma – Rivaling Omnium Gatherum for the best melo-death album of the year, Norway’s In Vain bring a lot to the Hetfield Table. Featuring members of Solefald and Green Carnation, they rock a very fluid, shifting style that embraces black, death, Viking and folk metal and as they dart amongst the genre reference points, they keep things infinitely melodic and immediate. Quite Borknagar-ish and one of those rare albums you wish was longer.
#10. Blood Mortized // – The Demon, the Angel, the Disease – Another big blob of raging retro Swedish death by the band that does it best lands them back on my year-end list for the second consecutive year. You heard it all before and yes, there’s plenty of this stuff on the shelves, but when it’s done this well, who gives a fuck if its original or not. Replete with savage, buzzing riffs and some of the most vicious death roars in the business, this is a lesson in rabid ass-stompery. The album to play when you need to blow off steam and don’t care if the neighbors call the police (they will).
#9. Carcass // Surgical Steel – As the esteemed Mr. Fisting himself said, this may be the best “comeback” album in metal history. Sure, it isn’t another Heartwork, but it isn’t too far off either. Insane, air-guitar inducing fret-work, crazed vocals and catchy writing with more hooks that death metal should ever allow all help catapult these surgery addicts back to the County Morgue where they belong. If you ever loved Carcass, this is a like a big, sticky, bloodsoaked hug.
#8. Avatarium // Avatarium – While I didn’t cotton to the last Candlemass album, founder Leif Edling sure made amends with this mammoth side project of traditional doom tinged with ’70s prog rock and folk. Newcomer Jenni-Ann Smith is a revelation and her sweet delivery takes the heavy riffage into new places and odd crawlspaces. Listen to “Lady in the Lamp” and tell me you don’t love her saccharine sweet singing, I dare you!
#7. Omnium Gatherum // Beyond – While the follow-up to their monumental New World Shadows opus wasn’t quite as breathtaking, it was nevertheless a top-notch piece of melo-death as only somber, depressive Finns can deliver. Equal parts beautiful and brutal, they kept all the best parts of New World Shadows while streamlining the writing to produce more concise and accessible songs, and while a sequel can rarely have the same impact as the original, this comes as close as you could realistically hope for. Beautiful music here.
#6. Victor Griffin’s In-Graved // Victor Griffin’s In-Graved – As the long-time guitarist for doom purists Pentagram, Mr. Griffin learned all about working class, street smart, bare bones doom rock and put all that education into his austere solo project. This is simple, stripped-down, emotional doom with tons of heart, some big hooks and an aura of authenticity that can only come with decades in the scene. A hybrid between Pentagram and ’70s biker rock and a welcome surprise in a year of missteps and mistakes.
#5. Audrey Horne // Youngblood – Rawk n’ roll the way it should be played, done by Enslaved‘s Ice Dale and his rowdy buddies (I think the singer is the band’s tattoo artist). While I’ve celebrated their entire catalogue, Youngblood is by far their best and most consistently earwormy platter and every song will rattle in your head for weeks and/or eternity. This is a good feeling, good timing slab of rock/metal, best served with cheap beer and even cheaper company.
#4. Nightfall // Cassiopea – This little gem will likely fall through the cracks and get missed by most folks and it really shouldn’t. Greece’s stranger cousin to Septicflesh really knocked it out of park here, mixing almost every metal genre into a fantastically riffy, addicting tour de force of blackened melo-death with gothic edges. There are enough winning riffs on this thing to boggle the mind and better yet, the songs themselves really cook. Moody, offbeat and oh so listenable, this is a great metal album!
#3. Witherscape // The Inheritance – Dan Swanö can do no wrong, even when he teams up with an unknown, mustachioed hipster to pillage and loot the best concepts from Opeth, Edge of Sanity and Katatonia. Musically, Swanö and sidekick Ragnar Widerberg let it all hang out and Dan delivers the best vocal performance of his career, careening between deep death barks and Michael Bolton-esque belting. Moody, expertly written and of course, it sounds freaking amazing! Please keep this stuff coming forever.
#2. Atlantean Kodex // The White Goddess – I’m a sucker for the kind of big, bombastic, trve doom these cats traffic in, but even as their target demographic, I was unprepared for how good The White Goddess would be. The rich, grandiose atmosphere of the album is perfectly complimented by the beauty and power of the music itself. The John Arch-era Fates Warning influence is just more sweet icing on the already delicious cupcake of classy metal. No one else writes ten minute songs that go by this quickly. To quote Bane, “What a lovely, lovely voice….“
#1. In Solitude // Sister – Without abandoning their slavish devotion to Mercyful Fate, In Solitude finally decided to create a unique style by borrowing from gothic, occult and 70’s rock and in the process, wrote an album’s worth of irresistibly catchy tunes cloaked in richly glum, dark moods. The quality is top-shelf from the opening note to the final fade out, every song has its own charms and all grow and blossom as you dial down deeper into the album. I’ve had this on heavy rotation since getting the promo and I’m still hooked on it. This is the most successful musical evolution I’ve heard in a long time and everything about it works. Don’t miss it!
Honorable Mentions (in no particular order):
• Hail of Bullets // III the Rommel Chronicles – Tank-killing battle metal from the always warmongering Dutch.
• Voivod // Target Earth – No one expected this comeback to be so good or so true to the band’s legacy. Piggy has smiled upon us from above.
• Satan // Life Sentence – NWoBHM worship slickly done by wily vets of the original scene.
• Oliva // Raise the Curtain – Pompous, Savatage-esque prog-metal and fitting final tribute to Criss Oliva (R.I.P.).
• Falkenbach // Asa – A return to form for these classic purveyors of Viking folk.
• Anciients // Heart of Oak – We missed this bigtime, but it’s a great blend of metal styles!
• Just Before Dawn // Precis Innan Gryningen – Bolt Thrower homage with major balls courtesy of Rogga Johansson and Anders Biazzi.
• Spiritual Beggars // Earth Blues – The best stoner rocking, hippie kissing album to sprout up on the mushroom farm this year.
• Tyr // Valkyrja – Viking power metal the only way it should be done, i.e., by these guys.
• Alpha Tiger // Beneath the Surface – Impossibly catchy, Viper-meets-Fates Warning 80s metal glory.
Disappointment of 2013: Ghost // Infestissumam – As much as I loved their debut, I was equally baffled and letdown by their sophomore outing. While the mega-accessible occult rock from the debut makes a few appearance, by and large this is a slowed down, dragged out, low energy platter, indicating a band at a loss on how to follow up their unexpectedly successful debut. Opinions were all over the map on this thing, but for me it simply didn’t work and almost everything I loved about the band vanished in a secular haze.