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Denim and Leather - December - Albums of the Year 2013
As another glorious twelve months of heavy metal comes to a close and we look back on a host of great releases both from the underground and the mainstream, I’ve teamed up with ‘The Black Metal Barry White’ Drew EMK to bring you our top releases in 2013 from two ends of the fan spectrum as well as our overall Album of the Year, so dig in!

Denim & Leather’s

Choices

Drew EMK’s

Choices

Blood Ceremony - Eldritch Dark Cultes Des Ghoules – Henbane

Cementing their position at the head of the female fronted, occult rock renaissance is Canada’s Blood Ceremony with The Eldritch Dark. Oozing from the off with gorgeous flute, hypnotising organ and enchanting vocals, Blood Ceremony have honed their craft almost to perfection with this release. What lacked slightly in previous efforts were solid tracks throughout, but alongside the highlights of the album in the epic ‘The Magician’ and the absolutely mesmerising ‘Lord Summerisle’ is a record that remains concrete from start to finish whilst at no point becoming stale or repetitive.

Cultes Des Ghoules – Henbane Horror is a theme not often done to great effect in Metal despite many trying, but this year’s release from Polish Black Metal horde Cultes des ghoules has it permeating from every pore of its being. Musically, Henbane has a great appreciation for a back-to-basics black metal style with the addition of  male choir chants, organs, bells and other percussion arrangements. This offers a staggering variety to the material that presents a tangible, spiritually draining experience, and quite candidly ‘Vintage Black Magic’ is about the finest Black Metal track of the past few years never mind the current one.

Satan - Life Sentence Procession – To Reap Heavens Apart
Satan - Life Sentence

Living up to your own hype after over twenty years absent of releases is something that rarely, if ever, is pulled off in heavy metal. Enter Satan with Life Sentence. Even listening with high expectations, this album blows you away from the word go with a fistful of raw, breakneck NWOBHM that is as addictive as it is sincere with highlights in ‘Time to Die’ and ‘Siege Mentality’. Choosing not to overcomplicate things and go back to basics, Life Sentence is no clash of egos or musical indifference, but simply a bunch of mates hashing out some brilliant 80s metal, and what more could you ask for?

Procession – To Reap Heavens Apart The Finest Doom metal recording of 2013 comes from Multi International band Procession in the form of To reap Heavens apart, a true doom masterpiece with a huge scale. The depth and intrigue of this record offers the listener an expansive experience upon multiple listens, with an astounding vocal performance from Felipe Plaza Kutzbach that is rich in positivity whilst never being afraid to crush your spirit and bolt you into your seat the way classic doom should.

Beastmilk - Climax Beastmilk - Climax

Brought to life by small Finnish label Svart Records, Climax is already making huge waves for Beastmilk, and with it’s ability to branch out far beyond the heavy metal compound whilst retaining a very drab and abstruse core it’s easy to see why. Straight from the off is one of the standout tracks of the entire year in ‘Death Reflects Us’, which displays elements of a drearier Joy Division that continues on throughout the record. Although the standard and pace slow down slightly in parts, the quality and hypnotic nature of the album remain a constant with highlights in ‘You Are Now Under Our Control’ and ‘Love in a Cold World’. Given the exposure and critical acclaim that the album has received, I can only hope that Beastmilk remain with Svart in the future for more brilliant exclusives like the Fallout Party Pack edition of what is Climax; Ghoulish death rock matched with a wicked sense of humour that will have you falling in love with the fallout.

Beastmilk - Climax
Grift - Fyra Elegier Bölzer – Aura

Grift - Fyra Elegier Giving into my more extreme tastes for a change is represented by debut EP Fyra Elegier from Sweden’s Grift and emanates ancient Black Metal from its pulsating core. Drawing inspiration from elder poets like Johannes Edfelt and Pär Lagerkvist in their writing, Grift entice you in the door with ‘Dödens Dåd’ before engulfing you in pagan fire. Dousing out the flames and bringing you slowly back up from the gully in which it left you with finisher ‘Bortgång’, Fyra Elegier somehow leaves you satisfied whilst still wanting more. With such an impressive debut EP, look out for Grift’s first full length on next year’s list.

Bölzer – Aura Bölzer is a two-man band from Switzerland, and their mini-LP Aura is a tough one to categorise but a truly rewarding listen with a sound and sense of style no other has been able to obtain. Standing as one of Extreme Metal's most unique and mystifying records of the year, the heaviness of Aura is matched only by its creativity, and both are completely dwarfed by it’s sheer sonic mass. Running just shy of 24 minutes this is a truly one of the most absorbing and rewarding slabs of extreme metal to date.

The Ocean - Pelagial Darkthrone – The Underground Resistance

The Ocean - Pelagial By far the most ambitious and rewarding release to date for Germany’s The Ocean, Pelagial has been one of my most captivating listens this year since it’s release back in April. As a 53 minute conceptual piece of music, the track titles reference oceanic depth zones that descend throughout the album as the sound itself reaches an increasingly dark and subaqueous place that gives a feeling of light drifting away from your grasp whilst the pressure builds. Having seen them perform the album live recently really brought to life it’s capacity to allure, firmly rooting it as one of my records of the year.

Darkthrone – The Underground Resistance Norwegian Duo Darkthrone return to fine form with their 15th Studio effort The Underground Resistance, building upon their modern era metal punk sound. By adding in doses of 80s speed metal ala Agent Steel to accompany the ever present Celtic Frost worship, this is a band who unashamedly wear their influences on their sleeves and are all the better for it. Standout highlights are the fourteen minute epic ‘Leave No Cross Unturned’ and the Fenriz penned ballad of sorts in ‘Valkyrie’.

Ranger - Knights of Darkness Ranger - Knights of Darkness

After a string of brilliant demos Finnish speed metaller’s Ranger have teamed up with Ektro records to explode onto the scene with this ferocious and fist pumping debut EP release, and it packs a real punch. Dark, Gritty and relentlessly Fast with a crude production style, Knights of Darkness provides a thrill ride with shrill guitars and falsetto screams from start to finish. From opener ‘Ranger’ through to the self-titled finisher, the brief breakdown in ‘Steel Dawn’ is required to catch your breath before plunging back in again. What’s lacking in refinement is more than made up for in heart and delivery in this whirlwind journey clocking in at just under 24 minutes, and this EP really proves why Finland is at the forefront of “The New Wave of Traditional Metal”. The world’s collective eardrums might not quite be ready for a full length release from Ranger yet, so Knights of Darkness will have to tide us over until then.

Ranger - Knights of Darkness
Fejd - Nagelfar Blodsgard – Monument

Fejd - Nagelfar One of the more elevating albums of the year comes from the Swedish masters of Neofolk Fejd. In our November article about native singing bands we talked about the seamless way in which they combine traditional instruments with a modern approach to create something wonderfully sincere and relevant that’s full of heritage and celebration, and with Nagelfar this is taken to new heights. From the haunting opening of ‘Ulvsgäld’ to the track of their career in the enrapturing ‘Vindarnas Famn’, this is a band three albums deep and really starting to sharpen their craft.

Blodsgard – Monument This debut album from Norwegian Black Metal horde Blodsgard comes after extensive re-writing, re-arranging, and re-mastering to Improve upon the sound of their 2011 EP Solve Et Coagula. This patience and attention to detail has really paid off as building off the foundations of “True Norwegian Black Metal” but adding a modern twist truly makes for a breathtaking atmosphere with Soaring Riffs and pounding drums. The standout track is ‘Sjeler vil brenne’ with its haunting Tremolo Riffing and triumphant vocal performance.

Dreamtale - World Changed Forever Witchgrave – Witchgrave

Dreamtale - World Changed Forever I’d never have been able to forgive myself if I didn’t include any power metal in my list, but the truth is that it’s been a fairly quiet year in the middle-earth of metal. Thankfully however, Finland’s Dreamtale were there to save the day with their masterful release of World Changed Forever in April. With this sixth studio album, Dreamtale have a concrete grip on what they’re doing from the beginning as ‘Island of my Heart’ sets the tone moving forward before the irresistible keyboards of ‘Join the Rain’ leave you beaming that power metal smile. The highlight comes in the self-titled ballad that easily stands as one of the finest tracks to come out of the genre for many years as this triumphant record on the whole leaves me thinking that Dreamtale’s future could be as colourful as their album art.

Witchgrave – Witchgrave Raiding the back catalogue of legendary NWOBHM label Neat Records has never been a bad idea for inspiration, and a band that has truly managed to do that and add their own blackened twist to such classic riffing is Swedens young upstarts Witchgrave. With an unrelenting and harsh take on traditional metal on this self-titled debut album, the harsh vocals of frontman Joakim Norberg take a cue from Legendary Venom frontman Cronos. This really accompanies the speed metal riffing and nicely expands on the punk leanings of the bands delivery. Often the curse of modern metal releases, at slightly over thirty minutes the album’s running time doesn’t overstay it’s welcome, and the standout track is the brilliantly named ‘Motorcycle killer’.

Amulet - Cut the Crap Watain – The Wild Hunt

Amulet - Cut the Crap Although not strictly from 2013 but having been released only just this week, London’s Amulet come in as a last minute entry with the digital release of their brilliant debut EP Cut the Crap. It was actually Drew EMK himself that suggested I should head for the new blood tent at Bloodstock Open Air this year to watch the band, and with the riffs being as impressive as Jamie Elton’s moustache I’ve hardly had them off since. Amulet play traditional heavy metal in the vain of the NWOBHM greats, and signing with Century Media Records has seen their 2011 demo reborn and unleashed on the digital world as part of a bigger worldwide deal that I can’t wait to see come into fruition.

Watain – The Wild Hunt 2013 Marked the return of Swedish Black metal Titans Watain with their fifth album The Wild Hunt. Promising to be a surprise for the ever expanding fanbase of the band, this certainly proved to be the case with them utilising more acoustic work and even the addition of clean vocals to the already established Melodic take on Black metal that Watain have utilised since their debut in 2000. The album builds upon what is expected from a Watain album and all around feels a more grandiose affair, which is no bad thing for the biggest band in Black metal currently. Stand out Tracks include ‘Sleepless Evil’ and the Epic ‘They Rode on’.

Album of the Year - In Solitude - Sister Album of the Year - In Solitude - Sister

Although our tastes differ quite drastically, there was no doubt in either of our minds that the overall album of the year would be the ghoulish and otherworldly Sister by In Solitude. Refusing to stick to a formula that was already working brilliantly for them, Sweden’s finest export since Henrik Larsson have poured their souls into this record and left absolutely nothing on the creative shelf. Slowly rising with ‘He Comes’ and climaxing with the belting self-titled track, Sister is an absolute triumph. In Solitude are probably the best thing to happen to heavy metal in the last ten years, and Sister is easily the most genuinely cadaverous album of the year.

In Solitude - Sister


Honourable Mentions

  • Jex Thoth - Blood Moon Rise

  • Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats - Mind Control

  • Magic Circle – Magic Circle

  • Enforcer - Death By Fire

  • Knokkelklang – Avgrunnens Klangverk(Demo)

  • Brutus - Behind the Mountains

  • Wormlust – The Feral Wisdom
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    Nick's posts By Nick Malone
    @BandsPlayedOn


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