BEST OF 2013: 30-21

Kayo Dot cover

30. KAYO DOT, “Hubardo” (Ice Level) — Easily one of the most visceral albums of the year, Kayo Dot’s “Hubardo” arrived, well, like a meteor out of the night sky ready to tear apart the Earth. And that’s part of what inspires this hulking new opus, a piece of intergalactic rock tearing through the atmosphere and inspiring a poet, who has been sulking in a pool of self-loathing. This album’s long enough to stretch over three pieces of vinyl and clocks in at about an hour, 40 minutes. It’s classic Kayo Dot, in that the band delves into all sort of different metallic sounds, from death, to black, to doom, to prog, but they also have their breezier, jazzier sides that pop up from time to time, as well as their avant-garde moments. Armed with an arsenal of players, this Toby Driver-led band made the most imaginative, involved record of their run, one that takes a concerted effort to absorb as a whole but that pays you back many times over if you do. This band never ceases to amaze, which they do again on “Hubardo.” (Sept. 1)

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cult of fire cover

29. CULT OF FIRE, “मृत्यु का तापसी अनुध्यान” (Iron Bonehead) — I might sound like a broken record so far talking about so many albums that sound like “nothing else you’ll hear this year,” but we do have a lot of those. Cult of Fire’s second record “मृत्यु का तापसी अनुध्यान” feels like one big spiritual ritual, one that mixes Hindu influences both musically and lyrically into one hell of an ambitious black metal album. As many bands that are out there stretching the parameters of black metal these days, not many are doing it quite like Cult of Fire, as this Czech band finds ways to include fiery contemporary sounds along with doom, death, metal, chants, and Middle Eastern melodies that make this album all that much more mystical. Unless you speak the language, you may not understand any of the song titles or the album title (means “Ascetic Meditation of Death”), but you won’t be able to deny the savagery and majesty of their music, that gets inside your head and stays forever. (Nov. 30)

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uzala cover

28. UZALA, “Tales of Blood & Fire” (King of the Monsters) — Uzala’s debut was impressive enough, an eight-track, 45-minute offering with multiple personalities that, fun as it was, sometimes seemed to be doing too much. On their follow-up “Takes of Blood & Fire,” they get it just right, with smoldering doom, piercing drone, and powerful vocals from Darcy Nutt who handles all of the singing. That latter decision alone puts this record over the top, as she has developed into a top-notch vocalist and just dominates here, proving she has some of the finest pipes not just in doom, but in all of metal. As for the rest of the band, they really make an effort to let these songs develop and breathe. There is so much improvement from every member, and in the songwriting, that it’s scary to think where they’ll be on album three. But for now, concentrate on “Tales,” a delicious, smoking, maniacal record that gets more and more intoxicating with each subsequent listen. Jump on this band before they blow up. Because they will. (Oct. 15)

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northless cover

27. NORTHLESS, “World Keeps Sinking” (Gilead Media/Halo of Flies) — One of the heaviest bands in the world, Northless always figure out news ways to make you understand what it might feel like if 17 cements trucks dropped on top of you. Yeah, you’d be squashed, tongue jutting out, guts everywhere, blood splattered in a million different directions. That’s what this band’s brand of sludge, hardcore, and death bring to the merry mutilation party, and their second record “World Keeps Sinking” is their finest hour to date. Slashing and mashing, piercing and immediate, and like a monster out of the woods with designs on seeing the inside of your throat, Northless pack a devastating wallop. I know that saying a metal band is heavy sounds redundant or stupid, but just listen to these guys. They are easily two times as heavy as the heaviest band that comes to your mind, and on “World,” they bring to the table their best, catchiest, doomiest goodness, melding by force the worlds of Black Sabbath and Neurosis. If you haven’t heard this yet, go grab this slab. But be ready to feel the weight of the planet on your chest. (Aug. 23)

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LSOD cover

26. LIGHTNING SWORDS OF DEATH, “Baphometic Chaosium” (Metal Blade) — Some of the best metal albums are the ones that mix tried-and-true brutality with a sense of fun, and that’s what you get with Lightning Swords of Death’s incredible third record “Baphometic Chaosium.” From outright ugly death and black metal, to bizarre chants and howled deadman singing that remind of something Tom G. Warrior would dream up in his darkest state, to hellfire, blazing playing, this is an album that’s been on constant rotation in my house ever since it dropped nearly a year ago. Every time I visit this record, it gets my blood going, which probably explains why I listen to it so often while running, and it’s sadly become something of a lost gem in 2013 probably because of the early release date. Well, shit, we didn’t forget it, nor would we, because LSOD have been an infernal power that’s given back time and time again. Also, “Acid Gate” is one of the best metal songs of the year. Period. (Jan. 22)

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eight bells cover

25. EIGHT BELLS, “The Captain’s Daughter” (Seventh Rule) — If you happened to catch a review of “The Captain’s Daughter” in a certain “extremely extreme” metal magazine, hopefully you ignored that piece of juvenile drivel and explored for yourself. If you did, likely you discovered this adventurous and wholly essential record comprised of former members of SubArachnoid Space (Melynda Jackson, Chris Van Huffel) and Haley Westeiner that might have taken your brain for one hell of a loop. Largely instrumental and atmospheric, the five songs on this band’s debut never fail to achieve drama, panic, punch, and madness. You can’t say this album is only comprised of metal, as you get some Sleater Kinney-style rock as well as Pink Floyd-flavored psychosis here and there, but they also know how to bring the hurt, especially with the shrieked wails, combined with sonic punishment, you get on album highlight “Fate and Technology.” This is a great record, one that plays like an old storybook, and don’t be ashamed if you get lost in the imagination of it all. You’re not the only one, trust me. (Feb. 19)

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inter arma cover

24. INTER ARMA, “Sky Burial” (Relapse) — I can’t imagine what Inter Arma are going to sound like in five years. From their 2010 full-length debut to their sophomore effort “Sky Burial,” this Richmond, Va., has grown in leaps and bounds. If you got into the band’s 2012 “Destroyer” EP, you might have had an inkling as to what was ahead (and that release’s “The Long Road Home” appears here in an expanded, headier version), but no way you could have been totally prepared for what awaited you. The band still mixes doom, black metal, and sludge, with heavy doses of southern rock and psychedelia (just listen to those effects smeared over the vocals, giving it a way trippier effect), and this 69-minute adventure has so many unpredictable twists and turns that every time you listen, you pick up something you didn’t notice before. Opener “The Survival Fires” is a great introduction to the mind warp ahead, and songs such as “Destroyer” (another holdover from the EP that gets medicine head retreatment) and crushing “‘sblood” are hammering assaults meant to defean and dizzy. Make sure you catch them on tour with Russian Circles on a bill where they may bring down the house.

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lycus cover

23. LYCUS, “Tempest” (20 Buck Spin) — Devastation, anguish, and feeling horrible about life are three things you can glean right off the top of Lycus’ massive debut full-length “Tempest,” one of the most effective funeral doom albums of the year. The three-track, 42-minute crusher is full of punishing yet utterly mournful sentiment, delivered slowly yet impossibly heavily by this Oakland, California, quartet. There is nothing to be happy about, and crippling depression is at every corner of this album, so if you’re also in a dark place, this either can be what pushes you over the edge or helps you realize there are others out there dripping in black feelings and sadness. But even though the tempo is typically lumbering for most of the record, the album does blow up unexpectedly on the title track, where some D-beat-style speed blows in through the wallowing deathrock like a storm that radar never saw coming. Lycus are one of the most promising new doom metal bands in the world right now, and their spectacular debut album is one that sounds just about right these days as seasonal depression makes its annual visit. (July 9)

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SOM 315LP.indd

22. INQUISITION, “Obscure Verses for the Multiverse” (Season of Mist) — If there really is a parallel universe, Inquisition would be the space traveling copy of Immortal’s winter-buried power. “Obscure Verses for the Multiverse” is the band’s sixth overall and first for Season of Mist, and despite all of this maniacal energy coming from just two members, the music never sounded beefier, scarier, and more bizarre. Really, these guys, Dagon and Incubus, are incredibly strange, plying their ideas of cosmology, deep secrets of outer space, and of course the dark underlord, who doesn’t really take the same form he does on most metal records. The songs are smashing, and while Dagon’s creaky growls may take some time to get used to, that shouldn’t be a problem while you’re getting lost in these bizarre, blood-curdling, often catchy songs. This band’s power and majesty cannot be denied, and this is one of their finest productions to date, all of the bent chaos, poisonous nightmarish blasts included. (Oct. 25)

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obliteration cover

21. OBLITERATION, “Black Death Horizon” (Relapse/Indie Recordings) — There are just some bands that, the moment you hear them, you know they mean every word, every note, every bit of violence. Nordic death metal warriors Obliteration are that way, gutting out old school death with purity and honesty, and even capping things off with a bit of a hardcore menace that makes that punch in the face all that much more forceful. The band’s new record “Black Death Horizon,” is their third album overall and first release in four years. From the unpolished sound of their heathen death metal, to the gurgling, strangling growls and howls of their vocalist Sindre Solem, everything here feels unbalanced, unsettled, uncontrollable, and uninterested in making things pretty and polished. This is true death, Fenriz-approved sounds, and this is exactly what this type of thing is supposed to sound like. I can imagine that a live setting is a violent pit of hell that’s every person for him or herself, and that you can practically watch this band’s anger and tenacity melt down as they recreate this madness. This record is awfully damn good, contains all the goats heads and skulls you possibly could need, and it always satisfies that urge to overdose on the death on which I grew up. (Nov. 8)

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