Another year gone and I find myself faced with the prospect of littering the internet with yet another useless “best of the year” list. To be honest, I wasn’t going to bother, not least because I managed to shatter the right side of my torso in a motorcycle accident (which wasn’t my fault, I hasten to add). However, after having sifted through the various top ten’s popping up online, it became increasingly clear to me that a lot of very good albums indeed had been brushed under the carpet (frequently in favour of an embarrassing Sabbath album which I shall be spending the best part of 2014 trying to forget). Since the whole point of webzines is to filter through the plethora of bands and shine the spotlight on deserving albums, it seems to me that if I can get even one of you bastards to listen to an album my feeble, damaged brain has classified as indispensable, then it justifies the existence of yet another tedious rundown of 2013’s best. Frustrating thing is, I’m sure I’ve missed out a few (I still haven’t heard the new Bonesaw but I’m sure it would merit inclusion… bad luck, lads!). Anyway, enough drivel – listed below are a bunch of albums that I loved this year, in alphabetical order:
Abysmal Grief ‘Feretri’: With Paul Chain lost to the wilderness of radical Christianity, it has been left to Italy’s finest (and strangely under-appreciated) doom metal band to cater to those who still crave the Violet sound. Abysmal Grief are the only band to have truly captured the morbid, mournful spirit of the Violet Theatre’s best work, and this album re-affirms how peerless they are. Top notch artwork too.
Asomvel ‘Knuckle Duster’: A kick in the bollocks if ever there was one, this fantastic album has everything we love about Bronze-era Motörhead and then some. There isn’t a single duff track to be found, and they really got everything spot on, right down to the artwork. Rock’n’roll of the highest calibre.
Autopsy ‘The Headless Ritual’: They’re the best death metal band of all time, and despite the legion of imitators, there’s only one AUTOPSY, as this brilliant album reminds us once again. Reifert and co. still don’t give a fuck what anyone thinks, and the result is an album that sounds as festering and putrid as ever, whilst not pandering to retrosexualism or nostalgia.
Beastmilk ‘Climax’: The band on everyone’s lips, and for good reason. The apocalypse hasn’t sounded this entrancing or appealing since Amebix, and ‘Genocidal Crush’ is probably my most played song of the past month. An album I can listen to over and over.
Cauchemar ‘Tenebrario’: With Pagan Altar reduced to squalid internet squabbling, Canada’s finest have stepped in with arguably the best début of the year. A marked improvement on their fantastic ‘La Vierge Noire’ EP, ‘Tenebrario’ is a sublime concoction of pagan NWOBHM-tinged Sabbath worship, beautifully produced and honed with consummate skill into an album with absolutely no faults whatsoever. The artwork, lyrics, riffs, leads and delivery are all epic without lapsing into sounding bloated or pretentious – catchy, melodic and neck-breaking HEAVY METAL. Beautiful understated cover art from Paolo Girardi (!) too. Merci!
Dream Death ‘Somnium Excessum’: An album that seems to have slipped under the proverbial radar somewhat, and a damn shame considering how good it is. Dream Death have always stood out as a unique blend of Frostian riffs and Lovecraftian atmosphere that has never been equalled. This album picks up pretty much where the legendary ‘Journey Into Mystery’ left off, it really is remarkable that they sound like they’ve never been away! A really pleasant surprise!
Eidetic Seeing ‘Against Nature’: Sophomore albums are a tough thing to pull off when your début is stellar, but Eidetic Seeing have come along in such leaps and bounds since ‘Drink The Sun’ that this album manages to astonish all over again. A complex, well-written opus that relies less on bombast and more on leftfield song structures, ‘Against Nature’ is something different and innovative in a sea of mediocrity.
Frank Fairfield ‘Ingleside’: Frank Fairfield is arguably the most important musical historian working today – seeing him perform isn’t just a night on the town or a musical experience; it’s an utterly gripping history lesson and a trip through America’s folk past, and although a CD can never quite capture the spirit of his wonderful, understated live performances, it doesn’t stop ‘Ingleside’ from being an utterly essential addition to any music nut’s collection. Ballads, waltzes, laments and spirituals and more all feature on the best folk recordings I’ve heard in many a year. And to top it all, Fairfield released an equally indispensable compilation of ‘Outsiders Of ‘Old Time’ Music’ (he calls it “..vernacular music that challenges stereotypes…”) So far as I’m concerned, he is the spiritual son of the mystical master Ry Cooder, and in my world, praise doesn’t come any higher than that.
Iron Man ‘South Of The Earth’: Al Morris has been steadily plugging away at the doom metal game since the Eighties, worshipped as the guitar god he is by the few who know. Endless lineup changes and a lack of real backing behind the band led to them languishing in criminal obscurity, but 2013 has seen some long overdue mainstream praise heading the band’s way, and although ‘South of the Earth’ isn’t quite as brilliant as 2009’s ‘I Have Returned’ (or indeed 1994’s classic “The Passage”) it towers over 99% of other so-called “doom”. Great vocals that are straight out of Halford’s codpiece, fantastic rhythm section and THOSE RIFFS. Perfect.
Lobotomized ‘Norwegian Trash’: I first came across the utterly loony death/punk sickos of Lobotomized in 2010, on a 4-way split release called ‘Oslo We Rot’ (hah!), which also showcased Obliteration, Execration and Diskord (talk about the cream of the crop!). ‘Norwegian Trash’ is their first album, and boy was it worth the wait! This is EASILY the most enjoyable album I treated my lugholes with all year, and I have no doubt I will be playing this LP over and over in years to come. With Abscess now seemingly expired, the world sorely needs a bunch of backward hicks to claim the sleazy crown of punky death metal, and there is no doubt that Lobotomized are up to the task. With songs that cover camping, sex with hobos, bingo, tractors, possessed cheese and moonshine, this brilliant album doesn’t let up for a second or verge into insufferable parody, not least because the musicianship is top notch (Eric Cutler makes an appearance – ‘nuff said!). I love records where it’s obvious the band were having a total blast recording it, and ‘Norwegian Trash’ does that in spades – you can almost taste the Pultost. I love this album to bits, and if you don’t like it you can suck my ass, fy faen! Oh, I almost forgot – this album also contains saxophone and accordion playing; delightful.
Mainliner ‘Revelation Space’: Kawabata Makoto surprised everyone by re-activating his mid-Nineties Rallizes-worship band this year, and the result is easily 2013’s finest psychedelic album. Punishingly heavy and relentlessly monolithic throughout, this is miles ahead of anything he’s done recently with the AMT and seems to be pushing the very limits of what can be achieved with a simple power trio.
Mansion ‘We Shall Live’: An utterly gorgeous EP from this new Finnish band, these songs are infectiously catchy, and bode well for their upcoming début LP and live appearances – iconoclastic and majestic, this record returned to my turntable several times throughout the year.
Obliteration ‘Black Death Horizon’: Obliteration are raved about for one good reason: they’re miles better than anyone. ‘Black Death Horizon’ managed to surpass my high expectations, an utterly insane brew of fine death metal, psychedelic, manic and grim. No retreading of past glories here – a progression into intricate territories that screams Voivod and the first Master record as much as AUTOPSY.
Resonaut ‘Sky Burial’: An utterly superlative, soulful doom metal record from Norway; hooks, leads, riffs, singalong choruses; this two-song EP has it all and then some. No gimmicks, no daft costumes, wizards or puerile references to drug consumption – just DOOM METAL, played right, which remains a rare thing despite the genre’s ongoing popularity. Resonaut deserve your attention, and are an equally killer live act.
Sadhak – S/T Demo: For the second year running, my favourite demo hails from Norway. There may only be two tracks on this cassette, but the power and majesty within are perfect enough for it to merit the top spot – for fans of Patrick Walker’s mournful, introspective doom, this could well be your favourite band in years to come.
Satan ‘Life Sentence’: ‘Court in the Act’ is a classic album that works despite the truly atrocious nature of its production, and despite that Satan never were able to top it… until now! It has to be said, having lived in Germany and been to several tiresome reunion fests over the years, I have become deeply sceptical of NWOBHM reunions, as they tend to stink even more of desperation than average. Catching the ‘Court in the Act’ lineup at Metal Assault a few years ago changed all that. They sounded better than they ever did on record! All original members, and lots of new material to boot, with ‘Life Sentence’ the end result – easily the “trad metal” album of the year and proof that reunions can yield surprising fruit.
Seremonia ‘Ihminen’: Finland’s superlative psychedelic garage horde have made it onto my ‘best of’ list for the second year running, with a record as refreshingly barmy as the brilliant cover art suggests. This time the band have not offered a translation of the lyrics, so who knows what they’re banging on about? It hardly matters when the raw riffs are so damn good and the beat so danceable.
Sleaford Mods ‘Austerity Dogs’: The spirit of Ian Dury looms heavily over this brilliant collection of down-to-earth poetry that also brings to mind John Cooper Clarke with its incisive social commentary and earthy humour. “Chlamydia-ridden phlegm stain” is possibly the funniest turn of phrase I’ve heard all year, and this acerbic and consistently funny album is full of such gems, and ends up as depressing as it is vitriolic. But then what do you expect when you show things as they really are? If you want to know how shit life in England can be under Cameron, this album paints a pretty vivid picture, although the intelligence and introspective spirit of self-mocking humour that has made much British comedy travel so well is also here in spades.”Wankers, concrete dagger swaggers…”
Transatlantic Rat’s Atom/BirdEye – Split LP: OK, I admit this got included for the Transatlantic Rat’s Atom side alone, but music this good should not go unnoticed – utterly mental psychedelic mirages from the ashes of UFO Gestapo.
Una Bèstia Incontrolable ‘Observant Com el Món es Destrueix’: Truly bizarre, schizoid punk rock with a psychedelic edge from members of GLAM. Noisy, uncompromising and lurching, there is something really cool about this album, not least the mental Spanish vocals that sound like a brain-damaged crow bleating a eulogy to the heavens.
Uzala ‘Tales of Blood & Fire’: Even a final track that is little more than well-titled guff can’t deny this otherwise excellent album a place on my “essentials of 2013” list. The previous 39 minutes are utterly perfect, Frost-laden doom metal, such power and majesty! Aiming less for a black metal atmosphere and more for a grim Pagan netherworld, Uzala keep going from strength to strength.
Voivod ‘Target Earth’: Some bands fade away; others break up and then re-unite with varying degrees of success (let’s face it, most of them shit); and then there’s bands like VOIVOD. They just never stopped and carried on without fanfare, weathering storms, bad reviews, dwindling audiences and even the death of the brilliant Piggy (one of the most important guitarists in metal, surely?). On this latest album, their best since ‘Angel Rat’ in my book, the band are absolutely on fire; every element that made ‘War and Pain’, ‘Nothingface’, ‘Dimension Hatröss’, ‘Rrröööaaarrr’ and ‘Killing Technology’ such timeless classics is on display throughout ‘Target Earth’. The technical virtuosity, thoughtful lyrics, weird chords and prog/punk (!) sensibility all contribute to an end result that gets better and better with every listen. Special credit to guitarist Dan “Chewy” Mongrain for filling such daunting shoes with such dignity and skill.
Vom ‘Altered States’: Psychedelic goth? Mongolid post-punk? Who cares, Vom are utterly brilliant and have exceeded themselves with this beguilingly brilliant sophomore album. As weird as they are mysterious, this album even provides a few off-kilter dancefloor moments in the best tradition of Joy Division. Those of you that loved the Beastmilk album should really check out VOM fucking pronto, and this album is a great place to start, although frankly they have yet to release anything that isn’t brilliant!
And last but not least the “honourable mentions”: Cathedral gave us their best album since ‘Forest of Equilibrium’, even if a few songs really didn’t survive repeat listens, Age of Taurus gave us the fantastic album we always knew they had in them, Krypts delivered the murky death metal goods and Zoltan released a fantastically enjoyable tribute to ‘Psychomania’.
On the live front, the musical peak of the year was undoubtedly seeing Frank Fairfield perform to a sold out Café Oto. Other highlights included sets from Zoltan, High Spirits, Tusmørke, Mainliner (actually a close second to Fairfield!), Charlemagne Palestine, Horse Latitudes, Danzig, The Process, Loop and Indesinence.
Last but certainly not least: for those of you that are interested in obscure, bizarre films and history, the best book I’ve read on the subject in a long time is ‘Offbeat! British Cinema’s Curiosities, Obscurities and Forgotten Gems’. Far from rehashing the same films that have been well documented over the last 15 years, this brilliant little book makes a valiant attempt to document a far less fashionable strand of cult cinema and is all the more indispensable for it – highly recommended!
All that remains is to thank Lee (the Shaman himself) for generally being a lovely, encouraging human being, the NHS (especially cheeky nurses) and YOU for reading my inane bollocks over the past year. Sorry about the hack jobs. All the best for 2014!
Scribed By: Saúl Do Caixão