Local band members discuss all the nuances of being in the local metal scene in this new podcast
My friends and I were having the debate of which was better, Gorod or Necrophagist… i am on team gorod 100%
Well, Unhuman just threw a socket wrench into my whole plan to have a top 20 list… so good. Ex cryptopsy members, as well as Teramobil and beyond creation
2013 was an excellent year for music, and with so many excellent releases coming and not enough time to listen to them all, any attempt to include all deserving records seems incomplete (NOTE: This article was written before listening to Spazzkid’s Desire and Tim Hecker’s Virgins). However, every record on my list has earned heavy levels of rotation on my iPod and other music listening platforms. While I have assigned a ranking to these records, this is only a rough estimate of how I would actually place them, and the only ones that are in stone are my top four favorites.
10. The Dillinger Escape Plan – One Of Us Is The Killer (8/10)
Loud, fast, and brutally relentless, The Dillinger Escape Plan have proven themselves capable of amazing things in the past. While One Of Us Is The Killer features the band covering familiar territory, it shines as a refineement of their tried-and-true formula. The songs here are still ripe with bizarre Radiohead-esque experimentation and psychotic syncopation, yet the group seems to have a greater focus than on its past releases, making the songs unyieldingly frantic while not being haphazard. On a song like “The Threat Posed With Nuclear Weapons,” the band tastefully transitions from soft sections to larger-than-life mathcore blowouts all while using similar musical ideas. These pieces flow naturally, yet at no point does it feel like the group have sacrificed their sound for greater coherency. With overall better mastery of singwriting abilities and amazing performances throughout, One Of Us Is The Killer stands as an incredible example of the bands capabilities.
Favorite track: “Paranoia Shields”
9. Washed Out – Paracosm (8/10)
While chillwave is easy to love and hate, Washed Out (the pseudonym for producer Ernest Greene) stands out as one of its more interesting acts. Anyone can make melodic, relaxing electronic music, but to do so in a way that its appeal extends further takes talent. Paracosm is the perfect soundtrack to a California drive in July, yet its psychedelic, lo-fi inspired atmosphere is its most absorbable aspect, complimented with more fulfilling songwriting. Greene fortunately stays away from atmosphere-over-style compositions, instead utilizing the genre’s mood to enhance fully fleshed out dream-pop influenced chillwave. The listener is left with a thoroughly uplifting record whose top-notch production draws in its listeners, inviting them to briefly escape into a world of lush soundscapes.
Favorite track: “Great Escape”
8. Phoenix – Bankrupt! (8/10)
French synthpop act Phoenix never fail to deliver irresistable pop anthems, though Bankrupt! sets for them a higher standard. While stylistically not greatly removed from their previous efforts, the group’s latest release draws heavily on 80’s new wave, featuring a more lush array of synth patches, which, along with the top-notch songwriting, puts the icing on their cake. While lyrically the group has always been a bit strange, the lyrical content here, unified by a theme of dissatisfaction with the emptiness of fame, brings the record together to add up to a more unified experience. Aside from the expected upbeat tracks, this release features some slower, more moving pieces, including the sultry “Chloroform”. Bankrupt! may not be a total evolution of Phoenix’s style, but their music has never been so much fun to listen to.
Favorite track: “Bourgeois”
7: Russian Circles – Memorial (8/10)
Memorial is essentially more of the same for Chicago post-metal band Russian Circles, yet its difficult to complain about lack of inventiveness when tracks of this quality are served up. The three piece does, however, demonstrate more of an emphasis on melodic sections, with tracks like “1777” featuring soaring riffs matched with uncompromised heaviness. The album also demonstrates improved contrast between serenity and chaos. One of the most crushing tracks, “Burial”, is succeeded by the beautiful ballad “Ethel,” an atmospheric slow-burner featuring some lovely keyboards and excellent tapped leads over a steady drum beat. While it may not live up to a record like Empros, Memorial is a very solid LP that delivers more of the best post-metal on the market today.
Favorite track: “Ethel”
6. Touché Amoré – Is Survived By (9/10)
The Los Angeles post hardcore band Touché Amoré’s Is Survived By presents us with the band its fans have come to appreciate, yet with a newfound maturity that lifts them from an enjoyable group to one you must hear. The act attacks its music with unappeased furiosity, yet in such a way that their purpose seems meaningful and empathetic. The guitars are relentless even while blowing out luscious, almost shoegaze-esque guitarscape under Jeremy Bolm’s viciously passionate and captivating screaming. This LP also prevails greatly in its superb lyrical content; Bolm covers deeply confessional themes with incredible profundity not common with bands that do similar things. The track “Anyone/Anything” finds him conflicted with his hopes of finding a place of belonging while being outcast by the very peers he seeks solace in. While not all the lyrical content featured here comes from a standpoint of absolute maturity, all of it is eloquently expressed and relatable. Touché Amoré’s music here is surely energizing, yet its great triumph is its ability to also be beautiful.
Favorite track: “Non-Fiction” & “Steps”
5. Arcade Fire – Reflektor (9/10)
Canadian indie rock / baroque pop outfit has earned quite the following for their sprawling ambition, yet by 2010’s The Suburbs, it felt the band had followed its style as far as one could imagine without its music becoming stale,. Having released three albums huge in conceptual scope, it appeared there was little left to say about coming-of-age. Their newest offering finds the group completely willing to reinvent themselves, turning away from extravagently symphonic anthems and instead adopting a lush discopunk and new wave inspired style. Reflektor, an album drenched in thick glossy synthesizers and disco/funk beats, features less orchestral instrumentation and more electronic influence, which makes for one of the years most engaging and danceable records. Frontman Win Butler’s lyricism also freshens up the group’s new sound, dealing greatly with his interest in Haitian culture. It may not be as moving as their debut Funeral, and it definitely contains some filler in its huge 70-something minute run-time, yet Arcade Fire’s latest offering shows the band having reached a greater sense of maturity and musical complexity.
Favorite track: “Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice)”
4. Steven Wilson – The Raven That Refused To Sing (And Other Stories) (10/10)
The master of modern prog’s musical catalog is amazingly huge, yet Steven Wilson’s work on The Raven That Refused To Sing (And Other Stories) finds him looking back to his influences, recalling King Crimson, Yes, and other prog-giants. Rejecting the heaviness of the late-2000’s Porcupine Tree and the electronics and wayward avant-garde compositions of his previous solo efforts, this LP rather consists of masterfully structured and driven progressive epics perfect for die-hard fans for the genre’s fathers. Its huge guitar chords and absorbing atmospherics mesh perfectly with its tight rhythm section to create a record that is both electrifying and adventurous. The album also shines in the performances featured. Written with a band originally formed to play material from Wilson’s 2011 release Grace For Drowning, his bandmates demonstrate greater unity as a unified ensemble. In particular, Marco Minneman’s precise drumming and Guthrie Govan’s guitar wizardry stand out as performances to be reckoned with. As usual, The Raven That Refused To Sing (And Other Stories) is just another masterpiece from one of the most enviable minds in progressive rock.
Favorite track: “Luminol”
3. Altar Of Plagues – Teethed Glory And Injury (10/10)
Groups that fuse together elements of black metal with shoegaze and post rock are easy to find in 2013, but most of them seem to feed off of the same narrow list of influences (Burzum, My Bloody Valentine, Emperor), yet Altar Of Plagues’ farewell record, Teethed Glory And Injury takes the perhaps stale sound and revolutionizes. Utilizing the epicness of the genre while mixing it with elements of dissonant noise rock and the coldness of industrial, this masterpiece suffocates the listener with its terrifying harshness. The band is unafraid of animalistic brutality, with tastefully applied blasts and James Kelly’s barbaric, raw-shrieks adding up to a tour-de-force that leaves little room to breather. The Irish band ruthlessly moves from aggressive pieces (“God Alone”, “Reflection Pulse Remains”) to emotionally shattering (though not wimpy) tracks (“Twelve Was Ruin”, “A Remedy And A Fever”) like an animal careless of those in its path. Teethed Glory And Injury is uncompromising, shocking, and so much more. The outfit may have decided to part ways, but with such a masterpiece, they have surely cemented themselves as a classic in the genre.
Favorite track: “Twelve Was Ruin”
2. Daft Punk – Random Access Memories (10/10)
The French are incredible with House, and Daft Punk are the best in its game. However, their magnum opus, Random Access Memories, finds them looking in the past to their influences, with almost every song on the record being performed through real instrumentation as opposed to electronic samples. While not a concept record, the LP has a strong line that connects its different tracks. On “Giorgio By Morodor,” the band interviews the eponymous figure as he recalls the excitement of being able to flourish with making “…music of the furture,” which acts as a metaphor for the group’s feelings towards its own music. The 9-minute epic is structured in stages, moving from minimalist funk jams of the past to climactic crescendo of avant-garde electronica and cinematic music that truly sounds like music of the future. Despite the album’s roots in 70’s and 80’s dance music, synth pop and progressive rock, it also contains some of the band’s most ambitious pieces. Most of the other songs find the group visiting old music in irresistibly catchy ways. The opener, “Give Life Back To Music” features deliciously groovy funk beats with incredibly guitar playing by Nile Rogers of CHIC. The record also features many beautiful, soulful ballads (“Game Of Love”, Within”, “Beyond”) on which the group’s vocoder vocals feel surprisingly human. Random Access Memories might seem like an album full of songs penned for clubs, but in its 74-minutes running time, Daft Punk manages to take its audience through a heartfelt adventure that explores the excitement of music. They may be groundbreaking innovators, but even the mightiest of men have respect for their elders.
Favorite track: “Touch”
1. Deafheaven – Sunbather (10/10)
Seeing black metal outfit Deafheaven play Sunbather live presents a strange experience. The band’s music is classified under a typically objectionable genre, yet its audience, rather than consisting of long-haired outcasts, contains a wide range of rather surprising audience members. Perhaps Deafheaven’s style, while at odds with everything we’ve come to expect from the genres involved, has an appeal that is so universal in its execution. As the band pummels through the record’s life-changing opener “Dream House”, Kerry McCoy’s Loveless-esque shoegazing major chords are oddly carried by Daniel Tracy’s superb blast-beating with interjections from George Clarke’s shrieks. He sings, with utmost passion and intensity, a story whose narrator finds himself envious of the upscale homes surrounding him. Dissatisfied with a life plagued by his own flaws, his envy drives him insane. Lyrics in metal music are rarely as affecting. As he shrieks “I’m Dying” over the song’s unbelievable climax, the tears could either be inspired by the song’s inspiring melodies or its grim fragility. Sunbather is an album whose majestic melodicism harrowingly contrasts its lurking despair. The post black metal sound may have grown somewhat stale, but none of Deafheaven’s contemporaries can boast anything resembling the tragic apocalypse of their music. The group’s shoegazing black metal and atypically major chord progressions, post rock interludes, deeply confessional lyricism, and sprawling ten-to-fourteen minute compositions all combine to make an epic breakthrough record; a classic that portrays an unresolved conflict between love and hate, dreams and reality, joy and sadness, breauty and morbidness. Whether or not Deafheaven is “hipster black metal” as their detractors define them, Sunbather is simply amazing. Its sheer audacity to be itself and its perfection at doing so render it a masterpiece that will be adored for years to come.
Favorite track: “Dream House”
Desire – Spazzkid
Birthdays – Keaton Henson
Animale(s) – Celeste
65daysofstatic – Wild Light
Locrian – Return to Annihilation
Beacon – The Ways We Separate
Nosaj Thing - Home
New intervals single, featuring Mike Semesky on vocals (Ex Vocalist of The Haarp Machine)
New Scale the Summit playthrough, best bass lines on the album.
5. Revocation - Revocation (Thrash/Death Metal)
A self titled album, in theory should exemplify what a band is, and allows the opportunity to create a shift stylistically. I think Revocation’s self titled does just that, showing exactly where the band has come from, and showing a peak into the potential you didn’t even know was there. And the riffs. Good fucking lord the riffs. This album is the crux of listenability and sheer musicianship. Its awesome. Go buy the fuck out of it.