Monday, December 30, 2013

My Top Fifteen Favorite Albums of 2013

Is it me or was 2013 the most underwhelming year of the 2010s as far as new releases go? Granted, there weren’t too many tragic deaths or albums that severely lowered the bar, but there were a few more disappointing releases than usual from the old guard and there wasn’t an album that quite blew my mind as much as some had in previous years. Thankfully, the underground and local music scenes still have a lot to offer and I may just need to be more selective when it comes to getting new stuff in the near future. In the meantime, let’s talk about fifteen of my favorite albums that came out in 2013!

15. Somnium Excessum by Dream Death
Having been a fan of the classic though uneven Journey Into Mystery since high school, I was curious to see how Dream Death would live up to the challenge of releasing a sophomore album twenty-six years after their legendary debut. This album retains the sludgy riffs, aggressive vocals, and elaborate song structures that made the band’s Celtic Frost worship enjoyable back in the 80s and it may even be more consistent than their legendary debut. There’s no track on the level of “Sealed in Blood” or “The Elder Race” here but tracks like “Them” and “From Inside the Walls” may eventually pick up their own high status.

14. The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here by Alice In Chains
Alice In Chains’ fifth full-length album may be somewhat disappointment as a follow up to the triumphant Black Gives Way to Blue. It seems like that album exorcised the last of the band’s demons, leading way to an effort that is downtrodden by conventional standards but doesn’t make you want to crawl in a hole and die quite like their classic material. But with that said, Jerry Cantrell’s ear for melody and solid riff writing ultimately prevails as tracks like “Stone” and “Phantom Limb” have a menace to them while ballads like “Voices” still retain a melancholic character. It may not be a true Dirt or Jar of Flies but songs this enjoyable do make it hard to complain.

13. Stormcrow by The Gates of Slumber
It is a shame that the swan song by these Indianapolis doom titans was a free EP released through Scion A/V but one can take solace in the fact that it is a damn good EP. While the sound picks up right where The Wretch left off, it succeeds well on its own terms. The opening “Death March” sets things up excellently with a few Saint Vitus homages and “Son Of Hades” also stands out for its particularly memorable chug. The projects that the members have planned for the future will definitely be worth checking out if this material is anything to go by.

12. Virgin Sails by Satan’s Host
This album would probably be higher on my list if I hadn’t heard it so late in the year and was more familiar with the band’s back catalogue, but it is a definite winner. Like By The Hands Of The Devil before it, Virgin Sails does an excellent job of pioneering blackened power metal and offers some great contrasts through its running time. If the previous album felt like the debut of a completely new band, then this album is the sophomore effort that shows no signs of slowing down.

11. …Like Clockwork by Queens of the Stone Age
As someone who is only recently acquainted with Queens of the Stone Age after years of putting them off, this is a pretty solid effort. It is more laid back than past efforts and seems to have a lot of influence from groups like The Beatles and Alice Cooper than usual. Some may find it to be too mellow and it doesn’t quite compare to the variety found on albums like Songs For The Deaf, but songs like “The Vampyre Of Time And Memory” and “If I Had A Tail” make it worth looking into.

10. Zombie Bullets by Zombie Bullets
These guys were another great find late in the year and are quickly becoming one of my favorite bands here in Indy. While the band’s specific genre is tricky to pinpoint, there is a lot of blues and classic rock influence at work and the songwriting on tracks like “Dopamine” and “Iron Head” more than makes up for the crude presentation. It’ll be great to see where things go from here and I hope the band’s follow-up in 2014 will be even better.

9. The Winery Dogs by The Winery Dogs
Comprised of Mr. Big alums Billy Sheehan and Richie Kotzen alongside prog journeyman Mike Portnoy, The Winery Dogs made due on their promising lineup and offered up a great slab of rock on their debut. The band shows off a lot of technical ability and chemistry with one another while never losing sight of their classic rock aspirations. The last three songs are where the band shines the most as a unit but the pop hooks on “Elevate” and “You Saved Me” are hard to deny.

8. Lay My Soul to Waste by A Pale Horse Named Death
Masterminded by former Type O Negative member Sal Abruscato, A Pale Horse Named Death serves as an excellent successor to the fallen goth metal titans. I have yet to hear their debut And Hell Will Follow Me, but Lay My Soul to Waste is a great example of what the band has to offer. They never quite match Type O Negative’s sense of humor or diverse song structures, but tracks like “Shallow Grave” and “DMSLT” perfectly convey their morbid aesthetics and ear for melody while songs like “Dead of Winter” touch on some different ground. I still wonder what happened to Seventh Void but this may be a great recommendation for unsatisfied Alice In Chains fans.

7. Tres Cabrones by the Melvins
While the Melvins’ first album with original drummer Mike Dillard and Dale Crover performing bass duties could be seen as just another odd lineup experiment, Tres Cabrones is a surprisingly refreshing release. It is one of their more guitar-driven efforts and has a lot of great songwriting to go with the usual Melvins weirdness and style shifting. Hell, even the minute long renditions of “Tie My Pecker To A Tree” and “Ninety-Nine Bottles Of Beer” are a lot of fun to listen to! Just check out the swagger of “Doctor Mule” or the downtuned riffs on “City Dump” and you’ll get a hint of what the album has to offer.

6. Plan Of Attack by Lords of the Trident
I may be biased in placing the new EP by Lords of the Trident on my list as I housed the group after one of my bands played an admittedly terrible set with them last fall, but the Wisconsin metal group definitely knows how to put a song together. They have a few goofy gimmicks, but songs like “Complete Control” and the title track are great power metal tracks and “Song Of The Wind and Sea” is a climactic ballad with an excellent folk friendly climax. I’ll definitely be looking into their full-lengths and hoping the circumstances will be better if they ever decide to come back to town…

5. Peace by Vista Chino
Formed by former members of Kyuss after they were unable to get the rights to the name, Vista Chino’s debut is an excellent album that is more than worthy of the Kyuss name and sounds like it would’ve been a solid follow-up to their classic 90s material. It conveys the old stoner band’s bass heavy riffs and trippy atmospherics well while offering a rawer attitude and huskier vocals. Hell, some may like it more than the latest Queens Of The Stone Age effort though I did find both to be quite satisfying listens.

4. Queensryche by Queensryche
All of my friends may be tired of hearing about Queensryche after I talked so much about them this year, but I can’t emphasize how badly this album needed to happen. Getting Geoff Tate out of the band was the smartest decision they ever made, as their first album without him is their best since Promised Land and also exposed the world to the talents of Todd La Torre in a way that the stalling Crimson Glory never could. The running time is short and the production may be too modern at times, but songs like “Vindication” and “Redemption” live up to their titles and plainly tell which lineup will be walking away with the rights to the name come January…

3. The Raven That Refused to Sing (And Other Stories) by Steven Wilson
The third solo album by Porcupine Tree frontman Steven Wilson took time to grow on me and I’m still working on it to some extent, but there is no denying that it is an incredibly well put together release. It doesn’t have a lot of pop appeal but it is easier to get into than Grace For Drowning or his Storm Corrosion collaboration were and has a foreboding tone that goes along well with its ghost story themes. The closing title track is especially powerful due to the emotion that it presents though “The Pin Drop” may be the easiest song to get a feel for. I still pine for a Porcupine Tree comeback but I would gladly take more of the same.

2. From Time… To Eternity by Stone Magnum
Having been impressed by this Michigan City doom group’s debut, I was quite curious to see how things would work out for Stone Magnum’s sophomore effort. They’ve recruited a new singer and cleaned up their sound, resulting in a style that has more in common with Candlemass than the Reagers-era Saint Vitus style of the debut. “The Gallows of Ohrdruf” is the best demonstration of Epicus Doomicus worship though “By An Omen I Went” and “In Tongues They Whisper” provide some great exercises of classic doom. It’ll be interesting to see what changes for the group’s next effort.

1. Earth Rocker by Clutch
Even though I hadn’t listened to any Clutch prior to buying this album (This has since been rectified), I knew their tenth studio album would end up being my favorite of 2013. It makes due on the title track’s promises of energetic guitar playing, over the top vocals, and song styles that range from high octane speeds to the grooves on songs like “D.C. Sound Attack!” and “Oh, Isabella.” Drawing from the group’s usual mix of punk, blues, and stoner metal, Earth Rocker is sure to please any sort of rock fan and led me to look into an institution that’ll end up being a major influence on my own future projects. Just remember the sage advice of one Neil Fallon: “If you gotta do it, do it live on stage or don’t do it at all!”