Top 30 Albums of 2013: 15-1

So here we are, the final fifteen, the very top of my favourite albums of the year. 2013 was a great year for music with albums like these gracing the airwaves and I wonder whether 2014 will be as good… there’s certainly a lot to contest with here. Have a merry Christmas! 

15. Pissed Jeans – Honeys

Honeys

Genre: Noise Punk / Punk

Man… man oh man… I love Pissed Jeans and they’re one of those bands whose discography could easily soundtrack a good portion of my life with deep satire, awkward situations, lethargy and some downright stupidity. It’s no surprise then that their latest album would make it onto this list. If you’re already aware of the band, you basically know what to expect here: loud, brash and fuzzy riffs, thundering drums and a lot of yelling. However, Pissed Jeans seem a little darker here, a little bit more sinister than usual, especially with the celebration of a boss’s death in Cafeteria Food, the slurry noise of Chain Worker and self-identifying flaws and social criticism of Male Gaze. Just a great album. You can read my review of it on the Eyesore Merch blog here.

Favourite tracks: Health Plan, Cafeteria Food, Bathroom Laughter.

14. Locrian – Return To Annihilation

Return to Annihilation

Genre: Drone / Ambient / Doom Metal

Locrian was one of the best new discoveries for me this year, both their 2010 release “The Crystal World” and this have been played through my headphones a lot. There’s not that much you can really say about this other than it’s an ethereal experience. The atmosphere that this trio creates (and you wouldn’t expect this to be created by just three people) is stunning and heavy at times, like a thick fog floating over a dewy morning where you know you’re going to fall asleep satisfied in the night. On certain tracks though, the band get a bit doomy and lay down distorted guitars and monumental grooves, like on Panorama of Mirrors. A very satisfying album for lovers of ambient-drone and doom.

Favourite tracks: Eternal Return, Return To Annihilation, Two Moons.

13. Blockheads – This World Is Dead

Blockheads - This World Is Dead

Genre: Grindcore

There wasn’t all that much going on in grindcore this year, or so it felt, apart from this. Criminally overlooked and underdiscussed, Blockheads released one of the best grind albums I’ve heard in years. This animal never gives up for a second, throwing memorable blastbeats, riffs and roars at every given second. Not a gamechanging album, but Blockheads proved that they can punch pretty hard with this release and it’s confusing why the world hasn’t taken as much notice as it should. If you like your metal hard and fast, make sure to give this a try. You can read my review of it here.

Favourite songs: Follow The Bombs, Be A Thorn To Power, Look Down.

12. Palehorse – Harm Starts Here

Harm Starts Here

Genre: Sludge / Experimental

Palehorse hadn’t released an album since 2010’s “Soft As Butter; Hard As Ice” and it’s been a quiet few years in the British underground metal scene for it… now the bass-loving lot are back with arguably their strongest and most refined album yet. Guaranteed that “Gee, That Ain’t Swell” had some great tracks and astounding songwriting and structure to it, but it seems like with “Harm Starts Here” the band are a lot more comfortable and steady, even bringing in some noise/electronics into their sound now. You can expect the usual dual bass attack, heavy drums and the mix of spoken word and growled/screamed vocals (the screams bear a fair resemblance to Steve Austin’s of Today Is The Day now). They somehow managed to make catchy as fuck songs while still being sludgey.

Favourite tracks: Five Grown Men (Holding Hands and Staring At The Ocean), Skin Flick, Full Power Anglo-Gambian Rinseout.

11. Dead In The Dirt – The Blind Hole

The Blind Hole

Genre: Grindcore / Sludge / Powerviolence

I’ll be absolutely honest and say that when I heard a lot of hype about this band/album, I was extremely skeptical… why? Simply because I thought the artwork was terrible, so bad that it just put me off the idea of checking it out at all, and I was wondering why in the hell Southern Lord were releasing their stuff… but after curiosity got the best of me after a month or so after the release of “The Blind Hole”, I heard why. The thing is a beast of angst, hatred and filth. Dead In The Dirt forge a fantastic mix of grind, sludge and a little bit of noise (mostly from guitar feedback; which sounds great here), and they never let up, not for a single second. All you need to know is this is one of the most feral albums I’ve heard in years.

Favourite tracks: Strength Through RestraintNo ChainThe Pit of Me.

10. Pharmakon – Abandon

Abandon

Genre: Noise / Power Electronics / Industrial

Admittedly, I’m generally not a fan of noise/power electronics, I find it hard to find anything to enjoy within the likes of Throbbing Gristle and most Coil stuff, or to lose myself in Merzbow. It’s a tough genre to get into… Pharmakon’s approach to it however is a lot more accessible, there’s rhythm (or maybe a clearer rhythm) than most artists in the genre. I guess in a sense, she is the ‘pop’ in the genre, although to me this is extreme stuff still. “Abandon” is an album that, while it does have its beat and flow, focuses on pained and frustrated screeches, as well as electronics that brush against your senses, a little uncomfortable yet enjoyable. The album just feels like the sounds of someone who has suffered from humanity’s cruelty and is the outcome of someone’s frustration with society. It’s an intense and entrancing experience.

Favourite tracks: Milkweed/It Hangs Heavy, Crawling On Bruised Knees, Ache.

9. Ben Frost – Black Marrow

Black Marrow

Genre: Drone / Industrial / Ambient

It’s no lie that I am a big fan of Ben Frost’s work and I was ecstatic when I heard that he’d released several albums/soundtracks he’d done over the last year or so. Out of the bunch, “Black Marrow” is my favourite, by far. It’s the darkest album, perhaps the darkest of his entire discography, thanks to moments like the machine chomping and depressive Metal On Skin and the tense distortion and wolf snarls on Undulating Beast. Despite the intensity and darkness of it all, it still keeps a smooth flow throughout and the transitions are sharp yet smooth. Though Tim Hecker is the dominant figure in drone-ambient music, this is another release that cements Ben Frost as my favourite drone artist overall.

Favourite tracks: Metal On Skin, Carbon Vessel Motherfucker, Undulating Beast.

8. Ensemble Pearl – Ensemble Pearl

Genre: Drone / Doom Metal / Ambient

2013 saw members of Sunn O))) and Boris collaborating again as Ensemble Pearl, releasing something even more enjoyable than the highly praised “Altar”. Throughout the six tracks and just under 59-minutes of this self-titled release, you experience some haunting drones and mournful progressions; at times feeling sinister and mocking like a grinning reaper. Don’t expect any Sunn O))) tribute kind of stuff though: drums make an appearance on this album and they don’t rely on pure distortion but on ambience, sounds and melodies – it’s just something you have to listen to and experience.

Favourite tracks: Painting On A Corpse, Sexy Angle, Ghost Parade.

7. Tim Hecker – Virgins

Virgins

Genre: Ambient / Drone

Thanks to this album, Tim Hecker has probably managed to get himself into several AOTY lists in 2013 and rightfully so. At first, I didn’t think much of this album; granted, I enjoyed it, but it didn’t move me in any way as “Ravedeath, 1972” or “Haunt Me, Haunt Me Do It Again” did… however, after about the sixth or seventh listen, it clicked and I got it. I imagine that this album is most like what a Tim Hecker live performance would be like, a mess of instruments all coming together somehow, beautifully. The crescendos in some tracks really intensify your emotions (a lot of the times, it reminds me of the same feelings I get while listening to certain tracks on Nine Inch Nails’ “The Fragile”) while the calmer parts let you process your thoughts and think about what you’re experiencing so far. “Virgins” may not do anything for you at first, but trust me, it’s worth repeating a few times. Another treasure added to Hecker’s discography.

Favourite tracks: Virginal I, Amps, Drugs, Harmonium, Stab Variation.

6. The Haxan Cloak – Excavation

Excavation

Genre: Electronica / Drone

Another new discovery for me this year and what a big one! If you’ve not heard The Haxan Cloak before, he manages to create some of the most intense electronic-based drone music I’ve heard, ever. Trying to think how he crafted these sounds together and formulated the album as a whole is absolutely mindblowing to me, I can’t understand how the process must have happened. Anyway, it’s a ridiculous album with dark beats and soul-grinding drones – it’s just something you should listen to in the dark. You can read my review of it here.

Favourite tracks: The Drop, Miste, The Mirror Reflecting (Part 2).

5. Melvins – Everybody Loves Sausages

Everybody Loves Sausages

Genre: Rock / Experimental

Granted, this is a weird choice considering it’s an album of covers, but I’ve probably spent several days worth of time listening to this. Here, Melvins cover the likes of David Bowie, Venom, Queen, Throbbing Gristle, Roxy Music and more – some are straight-up covers and some have a thick Melvins sauce applied to them. They also manage to rake in an impressive amount of guests on this album – mostly for vocal parts but a few instrumentally too – which includes Jello Biafra, Scott Kelly, J.G. Thirlwell, etc. It’s just an extremely tasteful and well-done collection of covers; and yes, I enjoyed it more than the new album “Tres Cabrones”, which was great itself. MELVINS RULE!

Favourite tracks: Station To Station (David Bowie cover), Attitude (The Kinks cover), In Every Dream Home A Heartache (Roxy Music cover).

4. Terra Tenebrosa – The Purging

The Purging

Genre: Metal / Experimental / Sludge

I really have a soft-spot for bands that make it extremely hard to describe or tie down to one genre tag and Terra Tenebrosa are one of those bands. The three-piece don masks and with the music, you can’t help but feel these three ‘characters’ come together like demons performing a ceremony. Overall, the album has a real sludgey/doom feel, but it would be wrong to describe their sound as simply that, the band clearly draw on several influences in black and death metal, maybe even prog too. “The Purging” sees Terra Tenebrosa with arguably sharpened song-writing than their debut and provide some sickenly crushing and catchy grooves. While it may not technically be the ‘heaviest’ album of the year, it’s certainly one of the darkest and most satanic sounding of 2013.

Favourite tracks: Terra Tenebrosa, Black Pearl In A Crystalline Shell, House of Flesh.

3. Ulcerate – Vermis

Vermis

Genre: Technical Death Metal / Sludge

This is my introduction to New Zealand’s Ulcerate, and I don’t think there could have been a better one. Celebrating everything that sounds evil and heavy, “Vermis” is a 9-track punishment of growls, double-bass and jazz-influenced drums and a mixture of fast, technical guitar leads or slow, sludgey riffs. The mixture of death metal and sludge/doom here is a great one, and done very well, never just opting to switch from one style to another through different sections but almost transferring the styles on either instrument (only drums and guitar here); so you may get some doom riffs backed by double-bass and blastbeats or sweeping guitar and slow drums. At other moments, the band is a lot more straightforward, playing purely one style, but never losing their edge at all. “Vermis” blows a lot of competition out of the water, showing how mixing these styles SHOULD be done. Excellent.

Favourite track: Cessation, Weight of Emptiness, Vermis.

2. Nails – Abandon All Life

Abandon All Life

Genre: Grindcore / Hardcore

This is hands down (probably) the heaviest album I’ve heard in years. I was mightily impressed and addicted to their last release “Unsilent Death”… back then, I thought Nails had proven themselves as a force to be reckoned with and whenever I needed something overwhelmingly heavy, that was what I’d turn to… now there’s this. By itself,”Unsilent Death” is still an incredible album of power, but in comparison to “Abandon All Life”, it’s almost like a docile kitten with three legs now. This 2013 release is a beast with blood dripping from its jaws and paws, ripping up hunters, wave after wave, and showing no signs of fatigue. The riffs are down-tuned, heavy and could churn chunks out of the earth, the drumming is ridiculously tight and the bass is thick. The vocals are stepped up too, bordering on death metal/grindcore growls, as well as the usual bloodlusting screams. 10 tracks under 20 minutes should tell you enough. Fans of all things heavy should have this in their life.

Favourite tracks: God’s Cold Hands, Wide Open Wound, In Exodus.

JOINT 1. Queens of the Stone Age – …Like Clockwork

...Like Clockwork

Genre: Rock

This album was a complete shock to the system! Sure, I knew the new Queens Of The Stone Age album would be good, at least, but I had no idea it would be the masterpiece that it was – I’ve always said that they’ve never done a bad album, but this was just far beyond my expectations. You don’t need to read another ramble, I’ve already done that in my review of it here, but this whole album is an emotional journey and Homme’s songwriting has reached new heights in my opinion. I don’t know how they’re gonna follow this up, they’ve set the bar extremely high for themselves with this release.

Favourite tracks: I Appear Missing, I Sat By The Ocean, The Vampyre of Time and Memory.

…& Deafheaven – Sunbather

Sunbather

Genre: Black Metal / Shoegaze / Post-rock

Anybody who knows me should have seen this coming… save any comments of ‘overrated’ or ‘hipster black metal’ because I honestly don’t care: if this is what overrated hipster black metal is, then I want more of it rather than the same formulated and repetitive ‘trve’ black metal. I never did a review of this album and it may be the only regret I have as far as missing any out on here goes.

“Sunbather” sees Deafheaven (a band I thought were all-hype before – so I was a bit of a cynic myself before) mould together a soundtrack to loss, confusion and sadness by intertwining black metal with large influences from shoegaze and post-rock. Dream House is an absolutely monumental opening track with its rising guitars, soon joined by the driving drums and screeched BM vocals; all with a sombre shoegaze feel. The drums themselves are just incredible and the guitarwork is just beautiful, everything is just right and fits together perfectly. Vertigo, The Pecan Tree and the title-track are similar in their approach, all being the lengthier and main tracks. Throughout the album, you get much shorter tracks (although these are usually 3-4 minutes long themselves) that are mostly instrumental: Please Remember being the only exception, while Irresistible and Windows are purely instrumental. These tracks tend to be more focused on the post-rock or shoegaze influences with piano, clean guitars and drones coming into the mix.

This is just an extremely emotional ride and a truly heartfelt album. Seeing the band perform most of the tracks here live reinforces that feeling and I’m glad that I caved in and gave it a listen. It’s an absolutely astounding album.

Favourite tracks: Dream House, Vertigo, Irresistible.

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