BEST OF 2013: 20-16

pinkish black cover

20. PINKISH BLACK, “Razed to the Ground” (Century Media) — Just about everything about Dallas-based duo Pinkish Black is disturbing, from the origin of their band name, to their penetrating drone that can cause your head to spin, from their doomy darkwave that, while not inherently metal, still belongs way up there in the discussion. The music on their second full-length “Razed to the Ground,” their first for Century Media (one of their most surprising, yet intelligent, signings to date) can chill you and spook you out in ways even the most evil and bloodthirsty black metal bands could ever dream, basically because these guys weigh in on your psyche and on matters far more tangible in daily life. How many of us ever are really going to see a baphomet? How many of us have been in a fucked up relationship, not necessarily romantic?

It’s easy to get creeped out by the band’s sounds. The synth-drums setup might make some think of Zombi, and there are some sonic similarities, but there are a lot of psychedelic nightmare-scapes and doom drubbings to set them in their own stratosphere. Daron Beck (keys, vocals) and Jon Teague (drums, synth) do a great job creating dark, creeping, but ultimately catchy songs that should turn on the dreariest of doom fans but even those who dig bands such as Sisters of Mercy, the Cure, and the Cult. This is a deranged, yet stunning record that may take some time to find its proper audience, but once it does, everyone included is fucked. (Sept. 17)

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desfheaven album

19. DEAFHEAVEN, “Sunbather” (Deathwish Inc.) — What could very possibly be the most positively embraced metal album of the past decade, “Sunbather” blew up even before the record hit the streets. Writers, including me, heaped praise on this mix of black metal, post-rock, indie rock, hardcore, you name it, and nearly half a year after its release, it still more than holds up and still packs the punch it did on first listen. From the emotionally tormented vocals from George Clarke, to Kerry McCoy’s music that runs the gamut of second wave black metal to Slowdive melodrama, “Sunbather” really has everything a scarred human being could want.

As with anything that gets this much praise and hype, there has been some backlash. There are questions as to whether Deafheaven’s music is even metal at all (it totally is, by the way) or if it’s just some hipster shit (it’s not, and please stop that one), but doing that just ignores the human tragedy and anguish contained in these seven tracks. The album is not a tough guy, beat-your-ass listen, or some sort of Satanic diatribe. It’s a collection of sometimes scathing, sometimes gorgeous music that embraces the highs and lows of life, realizations that suffering for your art might involve scraping by to even exist, and even the relationships with those people who are supposed to be closest to you that never really come to fruition. It’s a very human record, and maybe that’s another reason it has touched so many people. I called it a modern classic in my June review, and I stand by that with great conviction. (June 11)

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blood ceremony album

18. BLOOD CEREMONY, “The Eldritch Dark” (Metal Blade/Rise Above) — There were plenty of bands that took gigantic steps ahead creatively in 2013, but perhaps none did so more effectively and convincingly as did Toronto band Blood Ceremony. The band always had a knack for dark, ritualistic doom metal and rock, but on their third record “The Eldritch Black,” they reach out even further to adopt a larger coven, mixing in classic rock and English folk to make them a bigger, more explosive band, and one capable of more sounds than you and I thought possible. This eight-song record is paced just right, contains just enough material, and really could find the band playing on rock radio on stations where their playlists aren’t corporately controlled. My guess is their audience would swell and they’d become one of Metal Blade’s biggest bands.

Maybe the best way to describe Blood Ceremony’s sound on this third album is occult rock, though that’s just scratching the surface of what they do, and so many of these songs are just incredible pieces of songwriting, from the great, Heart-friendly opener “Witchwood,” on which singer Alia O’Brien just sells the hell out of the thing, to the incredible folk ballad “Lord Summerisle,” their tribute to “The Wicker Man” that is suing by bassist Lucas Gadke, to the Decemberists-style rocker “Ballad of the Weird Sisters,” that has some of the most raucous guitar playing on the album. This is such a great record, such a gigantic leap toward their future, that there’s no telling what this band will conjure next. (May 28)

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body cover

17. THE BODY, “Christs, Redeemers” (Thrill Jockey) — Armageddon and worlds being torn apart is as much a part of metal as guitars, volume, and devils, but perhaps no band expresses the horror of seeing existence blown to pieces better, and more frequently, than do Rhode Island duo The Body. Their music is pure terror, an assault that might make some people’s ears bleeds and insides explode, but if you get their mission, then chances are you spent many a bloody hour with the band’s new record “Christs, Redeemers,” their first for Thrill Jockey. The sludge doom menace created by guitarist/vocalist Chip King and drummer Lee Buford isn’t for the weak of heart, and might not even be for all metal fans, but there’s no question of their heaviness

As usual, the band is joined by the Assembly of Light Choir, who add their angelic voices to this smoking pile of destruction, perhaps leading you down a misleading path before King and Buford blast in with their mucking punishment, views into hell, and messages carried by the shrill shrieks and growls that sound downright inhuman. With each release, The Body increase their vitriol and come away with something scarier than what they offered up before. If they manage to top the bone-crushing chills they achieve here on “Christs, Redeemers,” the next album might literally make people’s hearts stop. (Oct. 15)

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woe cover

16. WOE, “Withdrawal” (Candlelight) — Woe is a band that has grown in scope and sound ever since the 2008 debut “A Spell for the Death of Man” all the way up to their explosive, excellent latest album “Withdrawal,” released earlier this year. While the band remains a relentless black metal machine, there is more atmosphere, punk rock, and even proggy moments on their latest opus, and if you’ve followed this band’s trail, you might have sensed this was possible. This time around, Chris Grigg collaborated with the lineup assembled for this record, making for the liveliest, richest experience in the Woe catalog and hopefully stands as an indication that growth is something we can expect going forward for the band.

Grigg’s mangling screams remain a centerpoint for the band, as he often sounds like a man on the edge or just someone releasing every ounce of human trauma, and the music on “Withdrawal” is both nightmarishly dark and unapologetically heavy and melodic. These songs just flow by, and before you know it, the record’s over, making you wonder where these 43 minutes have gone. Lyrically, “Withdrawal” is more personal, more societal, more human meltdown than ever before, perhaps even giving Grigg that extra emphasis to go on and just go for broke vocally, and he also happens to have the best Woe music to date behind him to give each song added depth. I can’t say enough good things about this record. I loved it from the moment is arrived, and it gets played pretty regularly around here. This is Woe’s greatest achievement so far, but hopefully it’s just the beginning of a cataclysmic next step. (April 22)

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