2013 Album Highlights Part 1
2013 was an excellent year for music, replete with many quality releases. I spend most of my time listening to metal and the genre was no exception; last year was simply filled with incredible releases, with death metal frankly dominating among its various sub genres. So here's a list of some of what I've enjoyed from the last year. This is by no means a comprehensive list (I still have albums I need to get around to), but it covers a fair amount of ground. Part 1 will focus on death metal, in particular the more brutal side of the genre. Part 2 will have the softer remnants of my death metal picks along with some other types of metal albums. Part 3 will conclude with a little bit more metal and my non-metal picks. For each release I've included links to music from the album. Unfortunately, some of these albums don't have the full album available, or even very many songs uploaded on Youtube for me to share, so some of them will be sparse on links for that reason. I've also included links to the Bandcamp page for each album that has one, which will allow you to stream the album and even purchase it if it catches your ear. Anyway, without further ado:
Defeated Sanity - Passages Into Deformity
I'll start with my favorite album of 2013. I heard about this German band early last year and was sold right away. I'd peg these guys as brutal technical death metal. To expand on that, they also have a healthy influence of jazz, most notably in the drums and bass (it's not to the degree of something like Atheist, but it's there). Musically I'd say it sounds most influenced by Suffocation and Disgorge (USA). On paper that sounds like something I'd love, and in practice it is. The album is incredibly brutal, everything about it hits like a sledgehammer to the chest. The drumming is insane and I'd even call it the high point of this monster of an album. Excellent double bass, blasts, fills, and even the occasional drum solo. Yes, drum solos. How many death metal albums can you think of with drum solos? Not many I bet. It sounds phenomenal.
The guitars chug along with technical riffs sprinkled throughout and an occasional solo thrown in for good measure, but the more rhythmic slams are where the guitars shine the most. The bass is easily audible throughout the majority of the album, providing excellent bass lines that add to the strength of this album. The vocals are appropriately brutal and slightly more varied than normal for the genre, though they remain firmly in the death metal category. Anyone who's a fan of death metal should check this out.
Passages Into Deformity - Full Album
Passages Into Deformity - Bandcamp
Carcass - Surgical Steel
As I mentioned earlier, 2013 was a pretty big year for death metal. There were lots of very strong releases, lots of albums from the biggest names in the genre. The two releases that got the most buzz in the death metal world (and probably the metal world in general) came from Carcass and Gorguts. Both of these bands are legends in the metal world that helped pioneer death metal (and in Carcass' case, grindcore as well). Both of these bands had broken up long ago only to be recently reunited. And they have one more important thing in common; 2013 gave us comeback albums from both of them. I'm glad to say that neither band disappointed.
Carcass gave us their first album in 17 years. While that was long before I began listening to music, let alone metal, that fact still helped build my anticipation, and I made sure to grab this album on release day. Bill Steer's riffs and leads throughout the album are wonderful, newcomer Dan Wilding provides some strong drumming, and Jeff Walker's vocals still sound gruff and raspy, barking out the gore laced medical lyrics that they're known for (which surpass my vocabulary). They don't reinvent the wheel on Surgical Steel, but when you helped create that wheel in the first place how much does that matter? All in all it sounds like Carcass, and that's just the way it should be.
A Congealed Clot of Blood
The Master Butcher's Apron
Noncompliance To ASTM F899-12 Standard
Captive Bolt Pistol
Surgical Steel - Full Album
Immolation - Kingdom of Conspiracy
This album was my re-introduction to the New York death metal band Immolation. I had listened to a free EP the band had given away in partnership with Scion A/V but at the time, I didn't pay much attention to it. After hearing Kingdom of Conspiracy, I decided to give the rest of the band's discography (including that free EP) a try, and they quickly became one of my favorite bands. With their new album, the band continues their style of death metal filled with dissonant riffs and and blast beats contrasted by the more rhythmic passages to the songs. And that is where one could criticize this album - it sounds like Immolation. Given what that sound is, that's not a bad thing, even if it's not their strongest release (hell, it's probably their weakest LP, and it's still a highlight of a stellar year for music).
The one problem I do have with this album is that it's brickwalled to all hell. I enjoy different styles of production on albums, so I'm generally not too picky about it, but plenty of modern music has been rightfully criticized for its brickwalling. It's usually not something that bothers me too much, but it's rather noticeable on this album, especially when listening on headphones. Thankfully it's not enough to detract from the album too much, though it does hinder it some. All in all it's another strong piece of death metal and one more reason why Immolation is one of the best and most consistent bands in the genre.
Bound To Order
Kingdom of Conspiracy - Full Album
Gorguts - Colored Sands
As I I mentioned above, last year Gorguts released Colored Sands, their first release since reuniting and their first new album in 12 years. As with Carcass, that only served to increase my excitement about the release. Unfortunately, while I was able to get a copy of Carcass's album, I was not able to obtain Gorguts' newest album, so this review is not as in depth as I would like it to be. Despite the setback, I was able to listen to the entire album, and it is easily one of the strongest releases of the year. It lives up to the hype as an excellent comeback album from a metal legend.
Now, Gorguts is not as well known as Iron Maiden or Black Sabbath (who I'm going to talk about in Part 3), but among death metal fans they are legends. They helped pioneer new areas of technical death metal with their groundbreaking album Obscura, an album that took the dissonant sounds of Demilich and Immolation to new levels, added in a healthy smattering of free jazz elements, and created a bizarre avant-garde sound that is often hailed as the most technical metal album ever (something that is difficult to say for certain given the vast amount of technical metal that exists, especially when different albums employ different styles of technicality, giving way for debate about which techniques are more technical). Colored Sands gives us more of Gorguts' dissonant brand of technical death metal, which should satisfy anyone who cares for that sort of music.
An Ocean of Wisdom
Colored Sands - Full Album
Colored Sands - Bandcamp
Suffocation - Pinnacle of Bedlam
Next we have yet another death metal legend: Suffocation, a band whose debut album Effigy of The Forgotten was groundbreaking in numerous ways (jeez, it seems like every legend in the genre released an album last year; this isn't even the last of them). It was the first album to up the brutality factor even further for death metal, creating the brutal death metal genre. They were the first band to combine that level of brutality with the added technicality of the technical death metal genre that Atheist had pioneered only a few years earlier, while it was still in its infancy. It was the album that contained the first ever slam and slam riff just before the 3:00 mark on its opening track, Liege of Inveracity. Their vocalist Frank Mullen pushed death metal vocals into the seemingly inhumane lows that are now omnipresent in the genre, but at the time were a new level for the swiftly growing genre. So how does the band sound now? Strong as ever. Technical riffing mixes with the slamming riffs they invented so many years ago. Drums fire away with blast beats and double bass, pummeling throughout the songs. Mullen's vocals possess a different tone today than they did when the band began, but they sound as brutal as ever. This is the band that began this style of death metal, and they are still among the best of the genre.
As Grace Descends
Cycles of Suffering
Pinnacle of Bedlam - Full Album
Wormed - Exodromos
BREEE GGRRAA BREEEGGAAHAHA PHREEGRAAHAH BREEE GRRRARARARGG BREEEE! Death metal fans will know what I mean by that. The rest of you are probably wondering, "What the hell Ambi, are you drunk?" Contrary to what my typo laden IRC conversations would suggest, I am not. That's simply me trying to express the sound of the vocals of many bands in the brutal death metal genre, like Wormed (and a few others on this list). If you listened to the first album I mentioned - Passages Into Deformity - and thought, "This is awesome! I need more of this shit!" then you're in luck. The Spaniards known as Wormed give a heavy slab of brutal technical death metal on their sophomore album, released only... ten years after their debut! Now, I compared the band to Defeated Sanity, but that isn't to say the bands sound identical. Wormed albums generally maintain a higher tempo than those of Defeated Sanity, with more of the "I bet you can't play this" style of most modern tech death - which, let's face it, is a love it or hate it thing for most people (can you guess where I stand?). Exodromos also lacks the jazz influence and has less of a focus on groove, and when it does it opts for breakdowns over slams (depending on who you ask, slams and breakdowns are two different but similar things, or slams are a specific style of breakdowns; personally I am of the former opinion). Amidst all the pummeling, the band occasionally manages to create a spacey atmosphere to couple with the extremity.
Exodromos - Full Album
Exodromos - Bandcamp
Ulcerate - Vermis
If you're in the mood for another dose of dissonance-fueled tech death, New Zealand has you covered with the latest from Ulcerate. On Vermis the band gives us death metal that owes its greatest influence to Gorguts. The atonal, dissonant riffs wouldn't sound out of place on an album like Obscura or Colored Sands, while the vocals sound somewhat akin to Gorguts' own Luc Lemay. The drumming, however, is more straightforward than some of Gorguts' material (and for that matter, the riffs don't go to some of the more "out there" places that Gorguts' do). Perhaps the biggest criticism that could be leveled at the album is just how much it sounds like Gorguts. But on the other hand, if you love Gorguts and want more of that sound, this is a good place to go.
Vermis - Full Album
Vermis - Bandcamp
Portal (AUS) - Vexovoid
Abrasive. Dissonant. Weird. Those were the adjectives used to describe Portal (AUS) to me; adjectives that are very good to use if you want me to check out a band (in case anyone is wondering, the parenthetical country signifier is because more than one band bears this name, so it helps to specify which). Portal (AUS) is a band that exists in the experimental death metal genre. It's a band that thrives on dissonance, the kind of thing you'd listen to after hearing Gorguts or Ulcerate and thinking, "Ya know, that was pretty cool, but it'd be a lot better if it was even more dissonant." To hone in on what they sound like a little more, this album is a collection strange, dissonant riffs, death metal drumming, and this odd sort of half whispered half growled vocal delivery. It creates a rather murky, atmospheric sort of music, that yields an unsettling nature to it. It isn't overtly creepy in the same manner as something like Khanate or certain Sunn O))) tracks (or even remotely similar stylistically), but rather a quiet, disturbing undertone that you can't quite place your finger on. It's there, but you can't locate it, an impending terror, like the monster lurking around the corner that you can never see. Just there. Until it's too late...
The Black Wards
Vermis - Bandcamp
Devourment - Conceived In Sewage
Devourment is one of the most respected slam bands. What's slam you ask? Well, remember how I talked about how some of these other albums used slams? Well, slam - or slam death metal - is a subgenre of brutal death metal that focuses on slams. As you can probably guess, it's pretty brutal. This particular album features extremely low, guttural vocals, and slow, heavy slams. That's not to say that it's entirely slower, groovy sections that hit like a speeding big rig. The band injects enough blasts, double bass, and lively riffs to alter the pace, helping to keep things interesting (especially for anyone who's not sold on songs that are primarily/entirely slams). But the best parts are when the band does what they are known for and just slam.
Fifty Ton War Machine (NSFW: GORE)
Conceived In Sewage - Full Album (NSFW: GORE)
Conceive In Sewage - Bandcamp (NSFW: GORE)
Rotten Sound - Species At War
Need an 8 minute bludgeoning? Finland's Rotten Sound has you covered, and beaten. It's a furious flurry of blastbeats and grinding riffs. It'll come in suddenly, pummel you quickly, and then leave just as abruptly. There really isn't that much more to say. It's grindcore, the songs all clock in under 2 minutes as the genre is oft wont to do, and on top of that it's an EP. Nonetheless, it does what it is intended to do, and does it well.
Species At War - Full Album
Species At War - Bandcamp
And that's all for now everyone. Next time we'll hit off the rest of my death metal picks, along with some thrash and a touch of black.
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