Mattie’s Picks: Top 25 Metal Albums of 2013
2013 was such an amazing year for metal, it’s extremely hard for me to rank these albums. Each and every one of these deserves a top spot because of its technicality, wonderful musicianship, and fantastic songwriting, but for the sake of this article, I will try to rank them. I also took into account my year’s play count on the albums to really decide what album struck me the most. So on top of the previously mentioned criteria, the most listens got the album a higher rank.
First, the Honorable Mentions:
25. Satans Host – Virgin Sails
24. Rhapsody of Fire – Dark Wings of Steel
23. Circle of Silence – The Rise of Resistance
22. Armory – Empyrean Realms
21. Karnya – Coverin’ Thoughts
20. Ereb Altor – Fire Meets Ice
19. Necrowretch – Putrid Death Sorcery
18. Mindfeeder – Endless Storm
17. Heavatar – Opus I
16. Neuronspoiler – Emergence
15. Tyr – Valkyrja
14. Tad Morose – Revenant
13. Necrophobic – Womb of Lilithu
12. Thyrfing – De Ödeslösa
11. Gloryhammer – Tales From the Kingdom of Fife
10. Gorguts – Colored Sands
While I am in no way a huge fan of technical death metal, the avant-garde style of music that Gorguts has made over the years caught my eye (or ears) in a pretty significant way. With the release of Colored Sands, I fell head over heels for the band and gained a bit more respect for the genre of technical death metal. There is consistently so much going on in each and every song, and yet it all flows together in a sequential and story-like way (this isn’t that pompous “look how fast I can play” kind of music). Combining killer drumming, very unique vocal styles and intelligent lyrics, atmospheric string touches, and great imagery, this album needs to be heard by death metal fans everywhere.
Best songs on the album: “Enemies of Compassion”, “Absconders”
9. Stormlord – Hesperia
Stormlord‘s discography is an example of perfection in the death and black metal world, but on more recent albums the band has taken a dive into being more of an “epic” extreme metal band. Taking elements of power metal, especially in the drumming and keyboard accents, Hesperia hit the scene this year and dominated the genre. The near flawless album is full of impressive concepts and atmospheric touches, all while staying heavy as hell. The guitar work seamlessly goes from heavy death metal riffs to melodic middle-eastern vibes, and pairs so well with the bass and drum work. I couldn’t stop listening to this album for months, and I still return to it on a regular basis!
Best songs on the album: “Onward To Roma”, “Those Upon the Pyre”
8. Wolfheart – Winterborn
Wolfheart was completely unknown to me until this year, when I was told about the release of Winterborn. Wolfheart is yet another project by metal mastermind Tuomas Saukkonen, who put all of his other projects on hold to focus on this one, and I am glad that he did. It is easy to feel that Tuomas was able to channel all creative energy into this one album, as it is a moving album both musically and emotionally. The music is extremely atmospheric, but staying true to the melodic death metal world, it is driving and heavy as hell at the same time. The vocals are deep and strong, on top of great drumming and musicianship all around, Winterborn is relentlessly beautiful and melodic. This is one hell of an independent release!
Best songs on the album: “Whiteout”, “Chasm”
7. Amorphis – Circle
I really didn’t think that Amorphis would ever be able to top 2011’s The Beginning of Times, as that is still one of the most played albums I own across all genres, but this year of course they proved me wrong with Circle. I don’t even know where to begin when talking about Amorphis. Listening to this band is an experience all it’s own, as the band borders perfection in beautiful and powerful songwriting. They have an amazing ability to get in your face with roaring vocals, but then a beautiful melodic guitar riff comes in and the haunting clean vocals soothe every nerve in your body. How do you describe perfection? Instead, I would just play the album for someone and let them experience it themselves. That is what you as a reader need to do. Experience this.
Best songs on the album: “Shades Of Gray”, “Nightbird’s Song”
6. DGM – Momentum
DGM is a progressive power metal band that has seemingly been around forever and released tons of albums. While I enjoy their previous work, a DGM album has never really stuck with me like this one. I found myself constantly returning to it during those “What do I feel like listening to?” days, and I could easily sit and listen to it three times over without ever getting bored or feeling as if the music is predictable. The album features Russell Allen, and guitarist Viggo Lofstad on top of the already stellar line-up, and is full of catchy hooks and sing-along choruses that any power metal fan would love. Of course, as progressive metal is typically known for, this record is not shy of any beautiful, intelligent, and powerful lyrics. Pair this with the astonishing musicians in the band, and you have a recipe for flawlessness! See you at ProgPower USA!
Best songs on the album: “Repay”, “Remembrance”, “Reason (ft. Russell Allen)”
5. Stratovarius – Nemesis
This is where this list really turns difficult for me. As my friends know, when I first heard Nemesis it truly knocked me back. I was in a rough spot you could say emotionally, and hearing this up-beat, inspirational, and stand your ground kind of music was exactly what I needed. This is a true work of art, and in the post-Tolkki Stratovarius world, I couldn’t be happier. The album has a modern sound to it all around in production and songwriting, and sounds truthfully like nothing Stratovarius has done to date. I said it when I first heard the album, and it definitely still stands today, I feel as if this album has made me a better and stronger person inside and out, as I do workout to it all the time.
Best songs on the album: “If The Story Is Over”, “Unbreakable”, “Castles in the Air”
4. Ayreon – The Theory of Everything
The Theory of Everything took over the progressive and power metal world when it was released, and for good reason. This album, this adventure, this story, this opera (whatever you will call it) is by far Arjen Lucassen’s best work, and believe me he’s put out a ton of wonderful music, so this is truly saying something. The album tells the story of a boy growing up struggling with Savant’s Syndrome and discusses his trials and tribulations with the people around him, all set to a beautiful progressive rock/metal soundtrack capable of bringing anyone to tears. It is truly a work of art to be proud of, and I am not sure how Lucassen plans to ever top it. This is intelligent music for intelligent people.
Best songs on the album: Phase I & Phase III were my personal favorites, but you really must hear the whole thing.
3. Powerwolf – Preachers of the Night
Powerwolf is one of my all time favorite bands. I am just going to get that out of the way here.
While I love literally every song they’ve put out, I was a bigger fan of their previous albums, such as Lupus Dei and Return in Bloodred because of the more haunting sound to them. The recordings were a little more hollow, and less “big” sounding than say Blood of the Saints. They were just flat out creepy at times, and Powerwolf is constantly mistaken for Halloween music when I listen to them at work and I think that speaks volumes for the band’s overall sound. Especially for a band that sings almost entirely about religious concepts, and not in the traditional negative connotations found in metal.
Preachers of the Night returns to the band’s older style in that more creepy sounding production quality. The music is as catchy and the drum and bass work is as driving as ever, though the tempo isn’t necessarily all that fast. The guitars go from dynamic riffs to soaring leads, coupled with haunting organ touches, and amazing vocal layering. On a side note, the lyrics throughout the album were better than expected with a healthy dose of religion and humor, and of course they top it off with song titles like “Coleus Sanctus” that from Latin roughly translates to Holy Balls.
Best songs on the album: “Sacred and Wild”, “Kreuzfeuer”, “Last Of The Living Dead”
2. Falkenbach – Asa
A tough contender for the top spot, Asa hit me at just the perfect time in my life. As every Falkenbach album has proven to be, this one is absolutely compelling, well written, and perfectly produced. It had the outstanding and beautiful songwriting of his earliest material, combined with modern production techniques that truly brought the perfection of his music into light. Finally, the music gets that huge sound that it’s always craved. While it’s true, the album isn’t groundbreaking or super original in any way, it’s the perfection that Falkenbach was always striving to achieve but lacked the resources to do so.
Melodic black metal, or blackened folk metal, however you want to call it, is hardly ever this deep and emotionally driven. Even in the up-tempo and harder hitting songs, the music is emotionally raw and powerful, and really sucks you in. The guitar and keyboard touches are utilized perfectly as atmospheric elements, though they do have moments to shine on their own as well. The best part of the album for me has to be the ethereal cleans from Vratyas, as he has a great raspy shrieking vocal style, but his true singing voice is second to none.
Best songs on the album: “Eweroun”, “Mijn Laezt Wourd”, “I Nattens Stilta”
1. Finntroll – Blodsvept
So here it is ladies and gentlemen! If you asked me this time last year if I would ever expect Finntroll to top the 2013 list, I would have denied it easily. Now don’t get me wrong, I have always loved the band, but their albums as a whole never really blew me away. All of this changed when I got my hands on Blodsvept. This album is everything folk metal should be! It’s dancing, it’s catchy, it’s fun as hell, and I love how prominent the more obscure orchestra instruments are in the mixing, because that ska feel to the music is a great touch. That production quality is by far the best I’ve ever heard on a Finntroll album, letting the music show exactly how well rounded it can be.
The album goes through twists and turns, but always remains happy and upbeat. There is never a dull moment in Blodsvept, as it sweeps around from a raw, more black metal-esque evil tones to “How did I wind up at a circus?” moments. Upon release, a lot of people were complaining about the music losing it’s gimmick, especially being at the heels of Nifelvind. Troll ears aside, when I hear this music I hear something so much better than music needing a gimmick. I hear extremely well written metal music that deserves the attention for that alone.
To sum it all up, in 2013, nothing beat Blodsvept in creativity, amazing songwriting, and ability to leave me wanting so much more! I am extremely happy I was able to catch them live this year, and I am now officially a Trollhead for life.
Best songs on the album: “När Jättar Marschera”, “Blodsvept”, “Skogsdotter”, “Häxbrygd”