Best of 2013: 10-6

Locrian cover

10. LOCRIAN, “Return to Annihilation” (Relapse) — The spaciness and strangeness of Locrian both have long brought great pleasure to us at Meat Mead Metal, and it was about time a label like Relapse stepped up and gave this band the proper forum and push they deserve. That way, hopefully more people got to hear the band’s dreamy, sometimes savage, sometimes cloudy new record “Return to Annihilation.” This band has been developing and changing all along, which is part of the fun of following them, and this record provides moments that perhaps were easier to digest for newer listeners but biting enough for longtime fans.

The Chicago-based trio really showed an expanded version of themselves musically, flexing their experimental muscles in ways that make their music more intoxicating, setting strange moods that border on drone and psychedelic, and when the time is right, unleashing massive growls and shrieks to keep you on the edge of your seat. “Return to Annihilation” is a collection that’s perfect for the true album lover, as it’s one of those records you want to immerse yourself in, and then sink under every dark wave to see what lies under each new surface. Something like “A Visitation From the Wrath of Heaven” gives you plenty of light and dark, beats that penetrate your soul, and metallic outbursts that warp you; “Panorama” can be downright frightening; and the epic closer “Obsolete Elegies” takes you on a noisy trip to the stars. There’s almost too much to like on this album. Not that we’re complaining one bit. (June 25)

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vastum cover

9. VASTUM, “Patricidal Lust” (20 Buck Spin) — Everyone describes death metal as scary. I do it what feels like 800 times every year, but that’s because that’s how this stuff is supposed to sound. But how many death metal albums truly get under your skin and into your brain with real-life, psychologically damaging horrors that feel like something that escaped from a psychiatric unit? Vastum’s second full-length “Patricidal Lust” is one of those records, a deranged, murderous, sexually damaged, emotionally frustrated trip that should make every band trying to chill your blood with the evils of Satan sit back and rethink their approach. Follow along with the words to the album as you listen, and you might find yourself unable to sleep. And there are no zombies, devils, or witches to be found. This is true human horror.

OK, so we’ve covered the lyrical content, but what if your real concern is the music and not what’s being howled back at you? Fair enough. This band that is comprised of members of Acephalix as well as Leila Abdul-Rauf (Hammers of Misfortune, Amber Asylum, and the way underrated Saros), who bring all of their dark influences to this thing, while Daniel Butler and Abdul-Rauf trade off vocal duties. The riffs are massive, the underbelly is purely doom infested, and their damaging death is dark but also catchy enough to stick inside your head. This is one of the grisliest death metal bands out there and, because of their lyrical journeys into the most depraved, scarring of humanity, one from which you won’t be able to escape. (Nov. 12)

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true widow cover

8. TRUE WIDOW, “Circumambulation” (Relapse) — There has been an ongoing theme on this site about what does and does not constitute metal, and who’s right, who’s wrong. It’s an open-ended, never-ceasing topic, and it’s one that could rise again as we discuss Dallas trio True Widow and their powerfully dark new record “Circumambulation.” Purely metal? Not really. Not metal at all? Some have argued that. But I’m totally fine listing them here, and their excellent new record is one that gets regular play in my house, just their like their previous releases. Yeah, they lean a little closer to the Sonic Youth, My Bloody Valentine, Low end of the spectrum, and they certainly are the oddball band on Relapse right now (though they fit in nicely with a band like 27 or even Locrian), but to me that makes them that much more interesting.

True Widow dub their slow-driving, night-time-inducing music as stonergaze, and that’s a pretty ideal way to describe what’s going on here. There are buzzing, slumber-poking guitar parts, steady drumming by Slim TX, and properly hazy vocals shared by DH Phillips (guitar) and Nicole Estill (bass) who provide the proper amount of both personality and detachment to these tracks. This is the perfect record to hear after a night of drinking, when you’re fully ready to question your decision-making and wallow in your own self-loathing. True Widow, on this record, feel like that soul that won’t hesitate to pour you another if it means one more demon lets loose. This thing is foggy, alluring, seductive, and powerful, and it has further solidified my devotion to this band that is truly special. (July 23)

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pazuzu cover

7. ORANSSI PAZUZU, “Velonielu” (20 Buck Spin/Svart) — If you’ve followed this whole list, I’m going to sound like a broken record here, but was there another album even remotely close to the sounds Finnish black metal experimenters Oranssi Pazuzu dreamt up for their latest opus “Velonielu”? I know I’ve embraced a lot of strange, challenging records this year and celebrated how they stood out, but this one truly takes the cake. Woven into their black metal are elements of Krautrock, doom, prog, and heavy psychedelics, so it’s easy to get lost simply on the strength of one slurry guitar line or a simple explosion of synth. For example, my first time listening to this album was on the beach this summer during a really windy day. I turned my chair to the wind, put this on, and managed to stare a black hole in the boardwalk for the next 45 minutes.

The vocals are gruff all the way, so even when you’re letting yourself daydream, you’re still being ravaged. But the band tires of one style too quickly, jumping all over the spectrum and pulling in whatever colors suit them at the moment. Because of that, their sound is pretty welcoming to most extreme music fans. It could even spill over and reach people who think the deepest into your psyche you can go is Pink Floyd or the most creative a black metal band can get is Enslaved. This one will really spin their heads. It’s an amazing opus, one that opened up my thinking, and a record that wore down my turntable needle ever since it arrived at my home. This is the most unique metal experience I had all year, and part of my brain is still lying in stardust somewhere from all the frequent visits. (Oct. 11)

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6. GRAVE MIASMA, “Odori Sepulcrorum” (Profound Lore) — To have as anticipated a debut album as the virgin offering from UK death metal shadows Grave Miasma, you have to be doing some really compelling things. From the praise coming from their label well before this record was even conceived, to the comments from fellow scribes, to digging into the band’s two EPs myself, so much has been building toward “Odori Sepulcrorum” that it almost seemed like the hype would be too great for this record to meet. Instead, they torched all of that advance word via the infernal power of their churning, nightmare-causing death metal, proving again that sometimes the reason so many people are talking profusely about something like Grave Miasma is because the words are true and the band can more than back themselves up.

This murky, bloody trip into death itself feels like it emanated from a deep, dark cave beneath the Earth’s surface, where the band’s four singular-letter-named members could be closest to the planet’s collection of rotting, perhaps damned souls. It’s like they sucked the remaining life and pungent rot from those bodies and breathed that back into their music, that’s shockingly loyal to the old death metal gods but also strangely modern sounding and fresh. You certainly can pull melody from these songs, as that’s there for the taking, but everything chokes on smoke and ever-present, penetrating death that all you can hope is that you’re not overcome by a world of damned souls. Grave Miasma made the wait for the first album more than worth it, and I can only imagine what terror they will unearth for album two. Luckily, we have time to prepare. (Sept. 13)

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