2013 was another great year for heavy music, so narrowing down the best albums into a short list was as difficult as last year. The order changed by the hour right up until it was submitted, and by the time you read this, I'll probably want to change it again. But here is what I settled on and with some truly great albums not even making the cut, it's time to glance back at 2013.
11. Deafheaven – Sunbather
This one is popping up on quite a few end of year lists. I'm not sure if it's a buzzband among the fans or if they're genuinely adored. One thing that I am sure of, is that they sound great. Blurring the lines between venomous black metal and elegant shoegaze is hardly a brand new concept, but Deafheaven deliver such a heartfelt journey through a range of emotions that it becomes difficult to not get drawn in.
10. The Ocean – Pelagial
Ever wonder what a journey to the bottom of the ocean would sound like? No, me neither, but German/Swiss proggers The Ocean have and have tried to simulate a voyage into the blackened deep. Musically, this album is untouchable and stands toe-to-toe with any release this year, it was originally conceived as a instrumental album, so emphasis on the atmosphere was high on the agenda from the off. As the album progresses the tones shifts to a darker place to suggest the vanishing light and impending doom. It is an interesting and relatively unexplored concept and The Ocean execute it well. Subtle watery background samples keep you immersed in the saga and like a few other albums in this list, it is at its best during a single sitting.
9. Cnoc An Tursa – Giants of Auld
You all know that we like to support British metal here at Scribes, and the UK has once again produced an absolute gem. Scottish folk metal heroes Cnoc An Tursa have caused quite a few ripples in the underground scene with 'Giants of Auld'. As much of a tip of the cap to Skyclad as Winterfylleth, they meld together grandiose song writing with frost-capped riffing and throat-flaying vocals. Cold and harsh yet masterfully delivered, this band deserve to break away from the pack.
8. Chapters – The Imperial Skies
This album has been a hell of a long time coming. Chapters have steadily earned their hardcore fanbase with their thinking man's deathly thrash and ferocious live shows, but a debut album has always seemed so far away. Thankfully, it was worth the wait. Technical musical wizardry and raw chest-beating power go hand in hand and whether its Joe Nally's rage-fuelled roars, full-throttle shredding or the flourishes of flamenco guitaring, 'The Imperial Skies' is an album keen to impress.
7. Watain – The Wild Hunt
Watain are hellbent on shattering any glass ceiling over extreme metal. They are going from strength to strength and 'The Wild Hunt' is not only some of their best material but probably the freshest sounding incarnation of old school black metal around today. It is the sound of the coldest reaches of Scandinavia saturated in darkness. They push their songs further than ever as shown in the well documented ballad, 'They Rode On'. For all its harshness, it is still massively accessible and this may go on to become a good gateway album for the next generation of black metal fans.
6. Steven Wilson – The Raven That Refused To Sing (and other stories)
Yet another masterpiece from one of prog's greatest minds, Porcupine Tree's Steven Wilson. This is his third solo effort and best to date. 'The Raven...' is a collection of six tales of macabre magic and, once again, leaves its peers helplessly in its wake. Frankly, this man is a genius, and if you claim to enjoy any form of progressive music, then this album needs to be among your collection
5. The Defiled – Daggers
It may have seemed like an age in the making but Londoners, The Defiled, have proved with 'Daggers' that their time spent recording in the USA wasn't wasted. This is an amazing follow up to the sublime 'Grave Times' and is just as difficult to categorise as its predecessor. From its precise industrial riffing to the heavy electronica, The Defiled have created a modern and somewhat unique sound. They have earned their spot amongst the ever expanding Nuclear Blast roster and hopefully will spend the coming years churning out belting anthems.
4. Ihsahn – Das Seelenbrechen
Nobody can accuse Vegard Tveitan of not putting in some hard graft. Not content with reforming the inspirational Emperor or being sought after for guest spots and collaborations, Ihsahn has put out his fifth solo album. As you would expect, it is another phenomenal triumph. This is probably the most experimental of his solo material with nods to raw black metal, jazz and ambient music, amongst others. One minute it's delicate and beautiful the next it's clawing at your face. The only constant feature is its stunning brilliance and sheer genius.
3. Voices – From The Human Forest Create a Fugue of Imaginary Rain
There aren't many bands putting out a better blackened racket than London's bringers of despair, Voices. This album is crammed to the rafters with furious tremolo-picked riffing, unsettling vocals and raw aggression. Although 'From The Human Forest...' is packing all of the usual traits of a black metal album, it is far more than just that. Voices have focused on achieving the bleakest and most hauntingly atmospheric songs possible, it makes for compelling listening and any fans of the darker forms of music will have this dominating their stereo for some time.
2. Bring Me The Horizon – Sempiternal
What is left to be said about 'Sempiternal'? It has been one of the most talked about albums of the year. The step up in song writing is incredible and the gamble of effectively swapping a guitarist for a keys/samples dude was a master-stroke. Not so new boy Jordan Fish expands BMTH's sound with an array of smartly deployed electronic bursts of energy and don't feel out of place at any point. Ollie Sykes' vocal range is much broader on 'Sempiternal' and even sees him dropping some strong cleans into the mix. Bring Me The Horizon now boast some of the biggest tunes and sing-a-long anthems in the rock and metal world and they have continued the trend of vastly improving every aspect of their sound with each LP. I can't wait to see where they will go next.
1. Carcass – Surgical Steel
Comeback albums don't come any better than this. I had my reservations about this album (as I would with any band jumping on the reformation bandwagon) but luckily, this is no nostalgia act. Carcass are back and, arguably, better than ever. It is a near perfect blend of sheer brutality and sublime melodies. What sets them apart from other extreme bands? Two words, Bill fuckin' Steer! What a performance he puts in. Their mercurial guitarist shows the world how to craft instantly recognisable moments that can still crush your sinuses. The whole band seems to be a tight unit and the end product proves their rediscovered chemistry. Jeff Walker's Aslan-esque roars and stinging lyrics help to drive home the significance that has influenced so many bands. Just as the album title implies, this album is sharp and frighteningly accurate and lethal. Don't miss them at Bloodstock!
So that wraps up another year. It was a blast! I can't wait to see what 2014 brings us. See you at the front, mines a cider.