My 2013 metal-only top 10 is live now, appended to Brandon Stosuy's year-end Show No Mercy countdown at Pitchfork. Several of these records overlap with my overall top 10 and a 2013 death-metal round-up I recently put together for Noisey, so I'll link inward/outward where applicable.
Here's a Spotify playlist including all the records below, including the honorable mentions, aside from the Pentagram Chile and the Six Feet Under.
1. Carcass Surgical Steel
See 2013 top 10.
2. Suffocation Pinnacle of Bedlam
See 2013 top 10.
3. Black Sabbath 13
See 2013 top 10.
4. Gorguts Colored Sands
See 2013 top 10. Incidentally, seeing Gorguts perform this entire album live at Saint Vitus—see here or here—was thrilling. What an incredible group of songs, and… this.
5. Sorcery Arrival at Six
See 2013: A Year in Death Metal.
6. In Solitude Sister
I have been a huge Danzig fan for the majority of my life. There's not a lot of other music that gets me anywhere close to that place—that lair, more like it—that is the Danzig soundworld. That place where rock is shirtless, sensual, musty, musky, snarling, evil, shamelessly bountiful. This record goes there, folks. The term "gothic" is just a genre tag these days, but this record is dripping with the atmosphere of the occult—red candle wax, black robes, pallid skin. This is rock at once mournful and beefy, forlorn and savage. If all of Sister were as stupefyingly great as the first half, this would've been a serious contender for my all-genres-in-play top 10. I dig the whole thing, but I do feel there's a bit of a drop-off after track 4. That said, I think this record is very nearly a masterpiece, the kind of album you plunge into, anoint yourself with. Such crafty, manly music, like Danzig III infused with Thin Lizzy and the Cult. Terrifying and awesome, and a great companion to my No. 1 album of 2012, Christian Mistress's Possession, another record so earthy, it sounds like it has moss growing on it.
7. Voivod Target Earth
As I've suggested before, Voivod is all about total aesthetic immersion. It takes a while to get on this band's weird, flamboyantly proggy wavelength. But while some past Voivod records only make sense in context, this one seems to stand unusually strong on its own merits. It almost seems like blasphemy to say so, given that Target Earth is the first Voivod record not to include any contributions from the band's late guitarist and co-mastermind, Denis "Piggy" D'Amour, but this record really oozes that weird Voivodian flavor, summed up perfectly by the garish color scheme of the album cover. As he did with Gorguts on the way-underrated From Wisdom to Hate album, Daniel Mongrain, Piggy's replacement, really takes charge on Target Earth. As Mongrain discusses here, this is one of those situations of being so steeped in a band's musical grammar as a fan and disciple that one is able to join up with their heroes and actually compose fluently in that style. (For more on this phenomenon, see Justina Villanueva's crucial "Join Your Idols" interview series.) It's a pretty impressive feat, and it's resulted in a total re-energization of this deservedly legendary band. Voivod is still an acquired taste, and may they always be so, but I can think of few of their records that distill their appeal so potently as Target Earth does. Fun and weird and epic and quirky and shredding and geeky as hell, just like Voivod should be.
8. Immolation Kingdom of Conspiracy
See 2013: A Year in Death Metal. See also my Pitchfork review.
9. Pentagram Chile The Malefice
See 2013: A Year in Death Metal. I strongly suggest getting your hands on the 2-CD version of this if at all possible. The bonus disc, containing re-recorded versions of Pentagram's early cult-favorite demo tracks, is an excellent addition to the package. Heck, there's even a great extra track on disc 1, "King Pest."
10. Six Feet Under Unborn
See 2013: A Year in Death Metal.
A trio of honorable mentions:
Convulse Evil Prevails
Evil Prevails was on the main list above until a late-inning rally from In Solitude unseated it. Was bummed not to be able to find a place for this record, because I love it. But I was happy to be able to throw a bit of ink Convulse's way via 2013: A Year in Death Metal, not to mention my Maryland Deathfest recap and subsequent post on the brilliance of World Without God (which also touches on the Sorcery record cited above). Evil Prevails isn't quite as gruff and relentless as WWG, but it's a super-satisfying return to that general ballpark, with some nifty enhancements here and there.
Vista Chino Peace
You'll recall …Like Clockwork, the latest Queens of the Stone Age disc, ranking among my general ’13 top 10. Well, this is what some of Josh Homme's old Kyuss bandmates have been up to. They were originally operating under the name Kyuss Lives! but had to drop that moniker following a lawsuit from Homme. Honestly, that was probably the best thing that ever happened to them. They got down to business and wrote a great set of songs in the old Kyuss mode, which should satisfy longtime fans while at the same time vaulting the band out of the nostalgia bracket. Such grit and soul in this music, thanks mainly to vocalist John Garcia and godly drummer Brant Bjork. A very worthy addition to a killer body of work that also includes Blues for the Red Sun and Sky Valley, both adolescent faves of mine that have held up well. This is one to crank and savor.
Philip H. Anselmo and the Illegals Walk Through Exits Only
Another old friend, listening-wise. Haven't been so into the various Anselmo projects—most prominently Down, but also Superjoint Ritual and a bunch of others—that have come down the pike since the demise of Pantera, whom I consider to be one of the greatest metal bands of all time. But Jesus, this is a hell of a corrective. This music is super nasty and caustic but also blackly funny and bizarrely introspective, almost like Anselmo had gone Woody Allen, or something. I really admire what an extreme statement this project represents—this is exactly the kind of thing you'd hope to hear from a lifer who can basically do whatever he wants at this point. Anselmo is indulging his sickest musical fantasies with the Illegals, and it sounds fucking great. His constant repping for metal's cult underground is no mere lip service; he actually goes there with this band. See also my TONY preview and Ben Ratliff's excellent live review. I missed that show, but I really hope to see them live soon. I should also add that the band's follow-up Scion single is every bit as good as the LP, with "Pigs Kissing Pigs" maybe even topping anything on that release. Can't wait to see what happens next with this project.
Metal shows of the year:
Incantation at Saint Vitus
I previewed the mighty -tion trio for TONY back in March and was very happy to see all three of these bands live in 2013. John McEntee and Co. were the rawest and nastiest. Was great to hear a few of the Vanquish in Vengeance songs live. Video.
Suffocation at Saint Vitus
See also the aforementioned -tion preview. They completely owned, of course. Amazing to see them in a small room. Frank Mullen was in a particularly goofy mood. Dug the Exhumed opening set, but not as much as I've been digging the badass, bar-raising Necrocracy. Video.
See my recap.
Cannibal Corpse + Napalm Death + Immolation at Music Hall of Williamsburg
The Corpse seemed a hair less ferocious / more perfunctory than at previous shows I've caught. Napalm Death were their usual mayhem-sowing selves, and it was great to finally see Immolation bring it (-tion preview). Love that they're leaning hard on Kingdom of Conspiracy in the current live set.
Black Sabbath at PNC Bank Arts Center
Don't listen to anyone who tells you that the current Sabbath incarnation is an embarrassment, either on record or onstage. Seeing Ozzy, Geezer and Tony live was an amazing experience, period. I loved hearing 13 tracks like "Age of Reason" interspersed with the old warhorses. Do I wish I had seen Bill? Of course I do. But to sit out on this would've been a really bad idea.
Carcass + Immolation at Saint Vitus
As discussed in the Deathfest lineup, Carcass circa now are scarily pro. So insanely crisp and powerful, and again, seeing them in a room this size isn't an experience I'll soon forget. Another raging Immolation set was the icing. Video.
Deicide + Broken Hope + Disgorge at Gramercy Theatre
I've been a Deicide fan for roughly 20 years but had never seen them live until this show. Their live sound is super-weighty and punishing, and man, do those songs from the first couple albums hold up. As with Carcass, very, very pro. Broken Hope didn't impress me here *quite as much as they did at Deathfest, but I still consider myself an overnight fan thanks to the D-fest set and the awesome Omen of Disease. Disgorge, meanwhile, were downright scary.
Obituary at Saint Vitus
The stompingest, most rifftastic show I saw this year, so much so that I went back for seconds the next night. Video.
Morbid Angel at Irving Plaza
Morbid Angel is friendlier and campier now than they were two decades ago, when they were my chief musical obsession. (Or at least, that's how I imagine their early-’90s incarnation stacking up against their present selves, since I didn't see the band live till after their mid-aughts reunion with David Vincent.) But the playing is still dead-on, and my God, those songs! Covenant in its entirety + one song apiece from every other album, including the non-Vincent ones + typical Azagthoth insanity = a very satisfied fan. Again, the drummer issue: Wish it had been Pete, but what can you do?
Eyehategod at Saint Vitus
And yet again, drummers: Rest in peace, Joey LaCaze. I felt weird about seeing an EHG show so soon after his passing, but Mike Williams and the rest gave him a very loving tribute at this gig, complete with "Jo-ey! Jo-ey!" chant. I was skeptical about anyone ably filling LaCaze's shoes, but Aaron Hill is the right man for this job. The sludge is intact. Video.
Kvelertak at Irving Plaza
There were two other bands on this bill, but the boys from Norway towered above them, making rubble out of the stage.
Revenge + Mausoleum at Saint Vitus
The closest I've ever been to one of the most unhinged musicians on the planet. Seeing Revenge at Deathfest was cool, but this was total lunacy. Had no idea I'd be seeing the masterful Jim Roe live as well, with Mausoleum.
Gorguts at Saint Vitus
See Colored Sands entry in albums list above.