Between unstable living situations, family turmoil, health scares, close to a year of unintended unemployment and the resultant financial burdens that brings, 2013 has been the toughest year of my life.
As a result, I’ve found myself drawn to releases that encapsulate the despondence and fury that I’ve felt at the various shitty situations I’ve found myself trapped in, albums that have either allowed me to wallow in the misery, or taken me to another place entirely.
Special mention goes out to Bell Witch‘s masterful ‘Longing’ LP, which was released in November ’12 so technically cannot be included in one of these lists. Ignoring the fact that I only got around to hearing it this year, the 6 tracks of crushing, mournful doom on this album have soundtracked many bouts of misery, and at the same time offered faint glimmers of hope. As far as I’m concerned, this is my favourite album of the year by a long shot.
Unlike most people I didn’t have to whittle down a top ten from a shortlist of hundreds, to be honest I simply haven’t heard that many albums released this year that have excited me enough to warrant being included. Most of my favourites have been stuff that came out while I was traveling last year that I’ve been catching up on (like Hooded Menace‘s awesome ‘Effigies Of Evil’), as well as stuff I just plain missed at the time (Cough‘s ‘Ritual Abuse’, the Meth Drinker LP).
A lot of my listening habits were informed by the one good thing to have happened to me all year; the Heavy Days In Doomtown II Fest in Copenhagen (you can read my review here). As well as meeting a ridiculous amount of awesome like-minded people, it led to my rediscovery of Graves At Sea, the handsomest band in doom, hearing Berlin’s hairiest sons Kadavar for the very first time, and finally getting to witness the crushing tectonic weight of Samothrace. I can’t recommend that fest enough, and it breaks my heart that I had to choose between its third installment and the inaugural edition of Temples Festival for my 2014 fest attendance.
Speaking of Temples Festival, it’s fucking awesome to see a UK fest that can stand up alongside the likes of Roadburn and Maryland Death Fest in terms of sheer ridiculous line-up, with genre-defining greats like Electric Wizard, Repulsion and Doom playing alongside some of the best bands of recent years such as Conan, Dragged Into Sunlight and Satan’s Satyrs. Yes, you read that right, that line-up is happening in the UK.
Check out my interview here with creator and promoter Francis Mace to get the full lowdown on why you need to be there too!
Anyway, without further ado, here are my top albums of 2013, in no particular order:
Jucifer ‘за волгой для нас земли нет’ [Mutants Of The Monster / Nomadic Fortress]
For sheer variety and breadth of songwriting, no-one does it better than blackened grinding doomed folk-tinged noise nomads Jucifer. Almost impossible to classify, their tribute to the people, place, and spirit of Russia’s Volgograd is a sprawling, truly epic journey through almost every heavy genre you can imagine. By the time you survive until the incredible ‘Queen Of Antlers’, you’ll feel enervated but elated, and when the Queen Of Amp Mountain, Amber Valentine’s soaring choir of vocals kick in, the sensation is dizzying. I hesitate to put albums in order, but this is first in my list for a reason; I simply cannot recommend this album enough.
Kadavar ‘Abra Kadavar’ [Nuclear Blast]
Berlin’s hairiest sons play raucous, rump-shaking hard rock straight out of a time machine from the ’70s, and when I’ve gotten bored of feeling down and just wanted to dance or drink, they’ve been my go-to soundtrack. Also one of the greatest live bands I’ve seen in recent years, if this doesn’t get you moving, you don’t know how to have fun. Congratulations, you’re even more of a miserable git than I am.
Russian Circles ‘Memorial’ [Sargent House]
I’d enjoyed casual listens of Russian Circles’ past records, but they’d never fully grabbed my attention until this year’s haunting collection of songs that run the gamut from abrasive noise-inflected riffage to euphoric crescendos. The closing track with Chelsea Wolfe is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard, and never fails to send chills up my spine.
Wolvserpent ‘Perigaea Antahkarana’ [Relapse Records]
Never have I felt so fully immersed in a recording as I have in the lush, fully imagined world of ‘Perigaea Antahkarana’. Boise, Idaho’s creepiest exports have created a truly special album that I’ve found myself able to take comfort in time and time again. From the post-apocalyptic creaks of violin to the suffocating layers of blackened guitars, the depth of ideas on this album is staggering. Get lost in it.
Vastum ‘Patricidal Lust’ [20 Buck Spin]
It’s no secret that old-school death metal, as a genre entirely separate from simply ‘death metal’, is perhaps in its rudest health in years, with the likes of Grave Miasma releasing absolutely putrid recordings this year to well-deserved acclaim, but for my money it’s gotta be this harrowing, horrid beast from San Francisco’s Vastum that takes the crown of Ugliest Death Metal Of 2013. Combining truly uncomfortable lyrics with primitive, but no less impressive, bludgeoning riffs, this is a return to the time when death metal used to genuinely creep me out. Fucking lovely stuff.
Dune ‘Progenitor’ [Self Released] and Lizzard Wizzard – S/T [Self Released]
You know when your friend has a new band and you say “oh cool, I’ll definitely check it out!” and it turns out to not be all that great, but you give them all the encouragement and support anyway? With these two releases from Edinburgh’s Dune and Brisbane’s Lizzard Wizzard, I definitely didn’t have to fake my enthusiasm. Holy shit! These two debut recordings by bands that only formed this year absolutely blew me away, and in the case of Dune, inspired me to pick up my pen and get drawing again. I’m very proud to recommend both of these recordings wholeheartedly, and to know some of the rad folks behind them.
SubRosa ‘More Constant Than The Gods’ [Profound Lore]
This album speaks to the teenager in me who was obsessed with ’80s goth, ’90s alt-rock, and was developing a burgeoning interest in Rise Above Records. Salt Lake City’s SubRosa seem to marry all these sounds together, their glacial doom fused with more traditional instrumentation such as violin, dulcimer and piano. At times recalling one of my favourite albums of all time, The Cure’s ‘Wish’, this haunting album is receiving a lot of well-deserved praise among plenty of fans and writers alike.
Noothgrush / Coffins – Split [Southern Lord]
I don’t think I’ve ever looked forward to a split release as much as I did to this. First learning of its potential existence almost a year and a half before its release meant that by the time I finally held the vinyl in my hands, I was practically rabid with anticipation. Thankfully it doesn’t disappoint in the slightest, with Oakland’s Noothgrush delivering their first new material in over a decade, from the Iommi-worship of ‘Humandemic’ to the bizarre and warped ‘Thoth’, they knock it out of the fucking park here, and I can’t wait to hopefully hear more new stuff from them in the future. Hopefully it’s not 11 years ’til their next release.
Uncoffined ‘Ritual Death And Funeral Rites’ [Memento Mori]
One of the dirtiest gems thrown up in the recent death-doom revival. In a year that lacked new material from genre revivalists Hooded Menace, Durham’s dourest Uncoffined more than filled the void. From Kat Shevil’s Reifert-worshipping drum/vocal attack, to the vintage horror vibe created by the slow crawl of guitarists Glyn Hall and Jonny Rot, this is really excellent stuff if you like it low, slow and fucking horrible. If you can’t get enough of this stuff, you should also track down the latest Bonesaw album, which leans closer to the death part of the equation, but is just as filthy and furious.
Ephemeros ‘All Hail Corrosion’ [Seventh Rule]
There’s just something about the Pacific Northwest that seems to lend itself to producing excellent funeral doom. With their debut album, Portland’s latest band of misery merchants have created the perfect audio equivalent of feeling the crushing weight of the world on your shoulders. As a sensation I have been all too familiar with this year, Ephemeros have provided a fitting soundtrack. Thanks, guys.
With a light visible at the end of the 2013 tunnel, here are a few things I’m most looking forward to in 2014: New albums from Coffinworm, Thou, Crippled Black Phoenix, Electric Wizard, Lord Mantis, as well as a couple of splits from Graves At Sea with Loss and Sourvein respectively. It’s gonna get heavy…
I’d like to thank all those who provided encouragement this year when I was at my lowest points, inspiring me to keep writing, keep drawing, and to simply keep being passionate for music. A big part of that was being given the opportunity to scribble down my thoughts for this here website, so to Lee, for giving me a shot; cheers man.
Scribed by: Ross McKendrick