2013 was an excellent year for music for me. I'm a metalhead at heart, but over the last few years I've been trying to expand my horizons and discover new artists and new sounds I wouldn't normally listen to, and so far I think I've been pretty successful. Some of them even managed to make my "Top 10" for the year, which, for someone who loves music as much as I do, is pleasing. At the same time, some of my absolute favorite bands put out new records this year, and they all turned out to be amazing. So without further interruption, here they are...
I recently watched the Tom Cruise sci-fi movie and liked it a lot more than most people seemed to, even though I don't think I really fully understood it at first. It had solid performances, effects, and action, but what stood out most to me was the score. It had an epic sci-fi feel and captured the tone of the film perfectly. After watching it, I realized the movie was directed by Joseph Kosinski, the same guy who helmed 2010's surprisingly cool TRON Legacy, which also had a stellar score. This director obviously really cares about proper music accompanying his films. Like TRON, Oblivion's score was composed by a French electronic house band, but rather than Daft Punk, this score is the work of M83. I sat down and listened to the nearly-two hour extended version of the soundtrack. The whole thing is outstanding, even heard independently from the film. Much of it is themed around the title track, featuring the angelic voice of Norwegian singer Susanne Sundfør. In an unexpected turn of events, this soundtrack quickly became one of my top albums of 2013.
The Swedish death metal legends returned this year with their twelfth offering, End of Disclosure. The album largely continues the sound on their previous album, A Taste of Extreme Divinity, and though it's not as good as said record, it's a strong effort nonetheless. The title track and album closer "The Return" are the biggest highlights with moody and epic synth-laden hooks, while songs like "44 Double Zero" and "Soldier of Fortune" are no slouches themselves. The record admittedly doesn't try to tread any new territory, but it is consistent throughout and if nothing else, shows that Peter Tägtgren's 3-piece has a lot left to offer the world of metal.
I've been a casual listener of this band for years, only listening to what I would hear on the radio, or in film or video games and never buying one of their records. Shame on me! I was in the mood for something a little different, and ...Like Clockwork happened to come out at the right time for me. I picked it up on a whim and fell in love after a couple of spins. Josh Homme's writing and playing styles are a uniquely delicious force to be reckoned with. "My God is the Sun", "If I Had a Tail", and "Smooth Sailing" are all irresistibly catchy, and "Kalopsia" is very reminiscent of early David Bowie. The title track is a calm and moving conclusion to this fantastic record. The waltzy, lackadaisical tempo, huge chorus and crescendoing outro combine to make "I Appear Missing" easily my favorite track, though.
Clutch's last couple of albums attempted to pay homage to some mellower classic rock, but the results were honestly kind of boring. They had a few real solid hits a piece, but they failed to capture the energy and enthusiasm of much of their earlier material. To be fair, these guys have never really stuck with one sound, which is what I love about them. However, Earth Rocker, their tenth album, returns to my personal favorite era of Clutch. This record is basically Blast Tyrant Part II, but it feels so much fresher than just about anything they've done since then. It's fast, heavy bluesy hard rock and it's just plain fun to listen to. Just try and listen to "Crucial Velocity", "The Face", "D.C. Sound Attack", or "Oh, Isabella" without nodding your head and smiling. I declare, by Neil Fallon's great beard, Clutch have done it again!
I never thought that DevilDriver would get back on track to matching the modern classic they conceived with 2007's The Last Kind Words, and they still really haven't. Pray for Villains was disappointing, and while Beast was several times better, it still wasn't showing the best these guys are capable of. So heading into Winter Kills, I wasn't expecting a whole lot. To my very pleasant surprise, though, this record is one of the best they've put out and comes real damn close to matching the quality of their second and third albums. This record is tonally a bit darker than their past work and contains a few more overt death metal influences. There's some awesome guitar work from Jeff Kendrick and Mike Spreitzer on display, and Dez's signature growls and snarls sound as disgusting as ever, but the drumming of John Boecklin makes him the unsung hero here. This guy comes up with some of the most inventive and ferocious beats around, and his double bass skills are impeccable. "Desperate Times", "Curses & Epitaphs", and the title track are a few standouts. Oddly, bonus track "Shudder" was left out of the final arrangement, but it's actually one of the best songs on the album and would've made a far better intro track.
While this is technically a 2012 release, the album didn't make it stateside until this year. Fucking Canada, man. Big Wreck is about as "rock n' roll" as rock n' roll gets. They take a lot of cues from 70's rock and early 90's grunge. Hell, lead vocalist and guitarist Ian Thornley even sounds a hell of a lot like Chris Cornell, but I'd go so far as to say that Thornley has the superior songwriting chops. (Anyone who's heard Thornley's first solo album, Come Again, knows that he can rock a little harder, too.) Anyway, Albatross is this band's first record since 2001's The Pleasure and the Greed , and what a comeback it is. It's highly varied and jam-packed with memorable riffs and infectious melodies. Every song is as strong and different as the next. My favorites include "Head Together", the Tom Petty-inspired "Control", and "A Million Days" for its outstanding guitar solo. The melodic ballad title track is not to be missed, either. This is an album worth owning by a band worth knowing. It's almost criminal how underrated these guys are.
It's been awhile since the last Ra album, but they came back in a huge way this year. Critical Mass may just very well be the best album they've put out yet and solidifies why they are one of my favorite bands. It's heavier than anything they've put out before, but it also contains a tremendous amount of variety. Dubstep, 80's-inspired hip-hop, beatboxing, and trademark middle eastern instrumentals are all surrounded by thick, crunchy guitars and some inspired writing and clever chord progressions. I also adore Sahaj Ticotin's voice. This guy such an immense talent and his range is flat out incredible. The entire record is amazing all the way through, but the final three tracks, "The Voice Inside My Head", "Through the Valley", and "Crawling to the Sky" are a cut above the rest and close the album out in an amazing way with some brilliant and undeniably catchy choruses.
I firmly believe that Sevendust are incapable of writing a bad record. I've loved everything they've ever put out, easily making them my all-time favorite band, and this album continues the trend. Black Out the Sun is like an amalgamation of all of their eight other albums, but at the same time, one of best ones they've done so far. "Faithless" opens the record with a kick in the face, and then the thrashy "Til Death" continues the beating with a kind of heaviness that was previously unexplored for them. The humorously-titled "Murder Bar" also continues the tradition of ending their records with raw, heavy-ass headbanging tunes that beg to be heard live. Yes, the harder side of Sevendust is definitely awesome, but writing beautiful and instantly memorable melodies is something they've always excelled at, and the most poignant cuts from this record demonstrate those skills perfectly.
It's not often that I hear a song so good it gives me goosebumps, but the title track did just that. The amazing chorus elevates the song to soaring heights, and knowing that it's about the death of guitarist Clint Lowery's father makes it more impactful. Then there's the moving ballad "I Gotta Feeling" that comes up close behind, featuring lyrics that really made me reflect on life in a way I didn't expect.
Holy fuck. AB is one of the best bands in the business right now and I knew this record was going to be killer, but even I wasn't expecting this. Boasting a way more energetic and heavier edge than 2010's AB III, Fortress barrels through its hour long runtime and then begs to be heard again and again. The opening track "Cry of Achilles" is the very definition of 'epic'. This is the song I would choose to play if I were riding into battle. "Bleed it Dry", "Farther Than the Sun", and "Cry Me a River" are also all heavy as hell. Myles Kennedy still hits those butt-clenchingly high notes. The guy's voice is just illegally good. There's plenty of awesome guitar work throughout from both Kennedy and Mark Tremonti, too, but nowhere does this shine more than on the 8-minute closing title track which features a blazing solo duel between the two of them. It's just amazing stuff. I will saw the one place this album falters is with its slower material. I generally love their slower stuff, but the tracks "Lover" and "All Ends Well" on here, while certainly not bad, are clearly the weak links, with the latter containing some uncharacteristically corny lyrics. Luckily every other song pulls the weight, and then some.
If you had told me a year ago that Soilwork would craft what is arguably the finest album (a double album, no less!) of their career without the aid of either of their original guitarists, I would've laughed in your fucking face. I guess the joke's on me, though, because that's exactly what they did with The Living Infinite. Featuring 20 songs over two discs with absolutely no filler, I am in complete awe of this album. Current guitarists Sylvain Coudret and newcomer David Andersson do an admirable job of maintaining the classic Soilwork sound while also taking it some progressive directions. There's some real fancy and dynamic guitar work, along with the lighting-fast and technical drumming of Dirk Verbeuren.
"Long Live the Misanthrope", "Spectrum of Eternity", and "Let the First Wave Rise", among others, are all furiously heavy. "Owls Predict, Oracles Stand Guard" is one of the more experimental tracks and one that took a long time to grow on me, but it's really cool and different for them. "The Windswept Mercy" is very much like what Devin Townsend is doing these days, which I like a lot. "Parasite Blues" remains my favorite track, combining every great aspect of this band, and includes a massive chorus that demonstrates Bjorn "Speed" Strid's impressive vocal range. I could go on and on about this album and how fucking good it is, but if you're a metalhead, you owe it to yourself to own this masterpiece.
Chimaira - Crown of Phantoms, Eye Empire - Evolve, 40 Below Summer - Fire at Zero Gravity, Killswitch Engage - Disarm the Descent, Black Sabbath - 13,Clint Lowery's Hello Demons...Meet Skeletons - Choices EP
To those I have yet to hear, like the new Dark Tranquility, Darkane, or Byzantine....I'm truly sorry.
I was looking forward to the new Sick Puppies album, especially considering they don't put out music that often. Turns out I waited four years since the stellar Tri-Polar for nothing. Connect is simply a boring album. It expends any energy it has within the first four songs and then lazily plods to the end with a long series of uninspired soft tracks, although the closing song "Under a Very Black Sky" is pretty good. Even the handful of harder tunes, like "Die to Save You", while good, do little to progress their sound and end up sounding like textbook Sick Puppies. The album as a whole sounds like little effort was put in, as if they ran out of ideas before they really started writing. I hope there's not another four years between albums, because if anything, Connect proves that a longer wait between album cycles does not guarantee a higher quality final result.