It’s become fashionable on social media to complain about the sheer volume of year-end music lists that appear every December, and certainly more and more seem to surface every year, but to be honest I love year-end lists, and I try to read every one I come across. The excitement of discovering great new music is what drives me in this freelance writing work, and not only am I interested in knowing what all my peers deem the best releases of the past 12 months, but I want to find new music that I might have missed along the way. I haven’t tabulated the actual number, but by my estimation I’ve heard somewhere between 500 to 600 albums this year, and it’s a testament to the astonishing scope of the metal world that my efforts barely scratch the surface.
Over at PopMatters.com, where I’ve been contributing for the past 12 years, one of the most fun projects of the year is the annual “Slipped Discs” list in January, where we writers get to plug one or two albums that were somehow ignored by the majority of lists the previous month. So with the new release schedule slowing to a crawl this week – something tells me a Leatherwolf live album isn’t a high priority for Decibel readers – I figured it’d be fun to recycle that Slipped Discs idea here and suggest five titles that somehow managed to slip between the cracks this list-making season while everyone was waxing poetic about usual suspects In Solitude, Carcass, Inquisition, and Deafheaven. So if you haven’t heard these ones, give ‘em a shot, and if you have, it’s as good a time as any to revisit them.
Audrey Horne, Youngblood (Napalm):
Norway’s Audrey Horne always befuddled me. Here was a band, that while featuring members of Enslaved and Gorgoroth at certain points, that churned out the most boring, forgettable modern rock, yet they seemed to be fairly popular in Scandinavia. Well, imagine my shock when I popped in their fourth album a year ago, and it turned out to be nothing but a dead-on, wickedly good homage to Rainbow. It seems the guys had a bit of a revelation, went, “Let’s start making music like what we used to listen to as kids,” and came through with a catchy, vibrant heavy metal/hard rock record that evoked the best moments from such Rainbow faves as Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll and Down to Earth. “Youngblood”, “Redemption Blues”, and “Show and Tell” highlight a hugely enjoyable album that’s made even better by the pleasure of seeing a talented group of musicians find their sound after years of spinning their wheels.
Manilla Road, Mysterium (Shadow Kingdom):
It’s easy to take veteran bands for granted, especially when they put out music at a consistent rate. While Kansas heavy metal masters Manilla Road have had their ups and downs over the years, their 16th album turned out to be their best, most impassioned work in ages. Might their triumphant performances at Noctis 2012 and Maryland Deathfest 2013 have given Mark “The Shark” Shelton a swift creative kick in the pants? Either way, it’s an absolute pleasure to hear the guys rampaging through such standouts as “Stand Your Ground” and “Only the Brave”, exploring their doomier side on “Do What Thou Will”, and capping things off with the rousing epic title track, which epitomizes all that is great about this perpetually lovable band.
Stream “The Grey God Passes” via Bandcamp here.
Paradox, Tales Of The Weird (AFM):
Here’s one from January that everyone seems to have forgotten about. German band Paradox has been making music since the late-1980s, and their music is very much like the title implies, an intriguing combination of the speed and dexterity of thrash metal with the soaring, melodic bombast of power metal. On this, their sixth album, guitarist/singer Charly Steinhauer and Christian Münzner (best known for his work in Obscura) team up on some absolutely blazing riffs and solos, while Steinhauer keeps it all accessible with some surprisingly robust singing. The overall effect is like a more technically proficient Iced Earth, a tremendous balance of power, brute force, and melody, highlighted by “Day of Judgment”, the measured “Fragile Alliance”, the relentless “The Downward Spiral”, and capped off by a killer rendition of Rainbow’s “A Light in the Black”. Metal critics slept on this one, but that doesn’t mean you have to.
Possession, His Best Deceit (Iron Bonehead):
I learned a new rule in 2013: listen to whatever Iron Bonehead puts out, because there’s a very, very good chance it’ll blow your mind. The underground German label has impeccable taste when it comes to cutting-edge extreme metal – Swiss duo Bölzer was their biggest revelation this year – and every single record they released left a strong impression. One of my personal favorite Iron Bonehead discoveries is the Belgian death metal foursome Possession, whose four-song demo recording is so stunningly good that you can’t blame the label for wasting no time in making it available for all to hear. Boasting the cavernous atmosphere of black metal and a death metal tone so filthy you can almost smell the stench, this is as fully-realized sounding a demo as I’ve heard in a long, long time. Possession has hit the ground running, and look for them to make a gigantic impact in the near future.
Ranger, Knights of Darkness (Ektro):
This year’s token “traditional” heavy metal album appears to be Satan’s Life Sentence, which has been making the rounds on several lists this month. Which is fantastic, because it’s a terrific album by a band making a long, long overdue comeback, but in my opinion the debut EP by Finland’s Ranger made an even stronger impression in 2013. Devotees of the classic speed metal sound pioneered by the likes of Exciter, Agent Steel, and Helstar, these five tracks capture the over-the-top energy of that classic sound, from the dynamic songwriting to the piercing screams by bassist Dimi Pontiac. These guys are all about looking and sounding like 1984, and they do it as well as anybody. Personally I can’t wait for their first full-length album.
With Christmas Day and New Year’s Day both falling on Wednesdays this year, this will be the last Sucker For Punishment of 2013. But that new release schedule will be maddeningly busy in no time, and I’ll be back in January sorting through the mess of new albums so you don’t have to. In the meantime, happy holidays, and see you in three weeks!