#12 – Amon Amarth: Jomsviking
Amon Amarth are Amon Amarth. Haha, if you’re a fan you know what I mean. Jomsviking is really a lot of what you hope for from these guys, but I would argue that this record feels a bit more inspired than their last; it’s more aggressive and has a lot of really nice guitar solos throughout. I also think the vocal track sounds really nice and intense. Overall the mix is different than normal, and I’m totally fine with that. It’s less “wall of sound” and more “listen to everything,” and, for the songs on this record, I think it works really well. There’s just a lot more going on than normal. 2013’s Deceiver of the Gods had a lot of really nice moments. Jomsviking is a really nice moment in its entirety. I’m a fan of Amon Amarth and this is their best record in years for me, and definitely worthy of recognition on my list.
#11 – Brujeria: Pocho Aztlan
Brujeria’s Pocho Aztlan is an in-your-face, aggressive masterpiece. On this record the guys match some fantastic rhythms with vocal lines that I just want to yell along to the whole time, even though I don’t understand what the hell is going on. But I don’t care, it’s fucking fantastic. With Poncho Aztlan there is this creative simplicity to the music making it easily accessible to the average listener. But if you pay attention, there is a lot of nuance in each track making it something that is really a step beyond what you might find at the surface. If you match this with Brujeria‘s lyrical content being real stories of struggle, conflict and prejudice, it feels very personal, while still having a sense of humor. Poncho Aztlan is Brujeria‘s first record in 16 years, and I’m so happy they decided to come together to create it.
#10 – Nails: You will Never Be One Of Us
God fucking damn, this album is heavy as shit. You Will Never Be One Of Us is that album you want to blast on your way to a fight. In fact, I kind of want to start a fight just so I can justify the aggression I feel when listening to this new Nails record. I can’t listen to this album without fantasizing about punching my former boss in the fucking teeth over and over. Nails fucking nailed it with this album and it’s easily one of my favorites of the year. Now I want to go fuck some shit up.
#9 – Skeletonwitch: The Apothic Gloom
Okay, so this is more of an EP than an album, but it’s powerful enough that I feel it deserves recognition in this list. The Apothic Gloom is an epic song with the thrashy aggression Skeletonwitch has mastered. I can see why they would want to get it out there right away, and I’m glad they did! The other songs on the single are very complimentary of the style and feeling of the title track, and each one feels like a standout to me. It’s a short and powerful recording that is certainly worth getting your hands on.
#8 – Death Angel: The Evil Divide
Fucking Death Angel! These guys always deliver exactly what you want and at just the right time, and The Evil Divide is no exception. This record is in-your-face and aggressive. Headbanging is a guarantee and there are some face-melting solos to boot. A lot of the early ’80s metal bands don’t really get better but just kind of do the same thing they’ve always done because people like it. Hell, I love consistency out of bands I love, but with Death Angel, there are always these details that show that a band from that era can continue to evolve in the best possible way. The Evil Divide is a perfect example of that evolution.
#7 – Meshuggah: The Violent Sleep Of Reason
Meshuggah, for me, defy more than just the norms of music and what is popular at a given moment. They defy the industry standard and continue to deliver music that comes from their own minds. The Violent Sleep Of Reason is a raw and real album that takes the listener on a journey from some place evil and dark to a place that’s even darker. There is something comforting about the consistency of Meshuggah, and inside all of the chaos the music portrays on the new record, there is something that feels right and normal. It’s a beautiful mix of light and dark, executed in a way that only Meshuggah can conceive.
#6 – Neurosis: Fires Within Fires
Neurosis are a band I needed to get into while watching them live. I know a lot of people got it from the first listen, but I just didn’t. But once I got there, there was no turning back. They basically submerge you in an ocean of sound and overload you to accomplish this kind of paralysis of the senses. Fires Within Fires is a record that takes me back to the first time I saw Neurosis live, and I can literally feel that live experience while listening through the record. It’s raw and overpowering nature comes through in exactly the right way, grabbing hold of you and not letting go until the very last moment. If you haven’t already, you need to experience this one.
#5 – Opeth: Sorceress
Opeth are still on the rock kick, and I know that is a sore spot for a lot of people. I have to admit that I listen to a lot less Opeth these days and that is certainly part of the reason why. My love of this band has been for their ability to bridge the gap between the super-aggressive and beautifully-dark elements that only work that way when you experience the full dynamic of it together. This is not the Opeth of today.
Enough time has passed so that when an album like Sorceress comes along, we don’t expect the Opeth of the past to take part. When you look at it from that perspective, this is a rock album at its finest. The dark, atmospheric undertones and sincerely deep vocal content play elegantly into the expertly executed production of the music. I love hearing the tubes, the fingers hitting the strings, the subtleties of how the sticks hit the cymbals and the rawness in Mikael Akerfeldt’s voice.
If you are only a fan of the aggressive metal side of Opeth, Sorceress is not going to do it for you. But as a fan of Pink Floyd, King Crimson and Kingston Wall, this album is a masterpiece deserving of significant recognition.
#4 – Scour: Scour
The short record is probably one of the best examples of Philip H. Anselmo’s creativity, but looking at the entire lineup, you realize it’s one of the coolest contributions to the metal scene in a long time. This is an aggressive masterpiece for everyone involved, and it was created in the most underground of ways. Scour’s Scour makes my top list because it’s a fantastic performance from the players, it was recorded when and where they could, and it shows that an awesome record can be created solely off the back of inspiration.
The singer might be shrouded in controversy after controversy, but the issues that lead to his consistent questionable activities are likely the same driving factors that translate into such powerful music. Good, bad or indifferent, the guy is talented, and with the full lineup Scour has in its arsenal, this record turned out exactly how you would hope. Who knows if we’ll ever see another one, but it’s definitely an awesome record to have.
#3 – Insomnium: Winter’s Gate
I realized with their release of Shadows of the Dying Sun that Insomnium were essentially incapable of putting out a bad record. There aren’t many bands out there that would compel me to stand by that statement, but Insomnium shows us time after time that they are masterful songwriters. Winter’s Gate is even more than what I would have hoped for out of a record from these guys.
This album wasn’t intended to exist, but it is the tangible evolution of a short story that was intended for publication. You can learn all about the story through their videos explaining how it came to be, but I think the perspective on how this record was inspired explains a lot about the intricate differences you’ll find in it compared to albums of the past. In my opinion, Winter’s Gate isn’t just another good Insomnium record, it’s one of their best. It’s inspired, it’s different, and it’s fucking epic.
#2 – Zeal and Ardor: Devil Is Fine
Every once in awhile you come across something so unique and interesting that you just can’t stop thinking about it. I totally slept on this record initially and that was my own mistake. Zeal and Ardor’s Devil is Fine is one of those records that crosses the boundaries of genres in a way that works. The music is captivating, dark and is executed with so much creativity that it’s hard to turn it off.
This album is not perfect. I’m not a fan of electronic music and it comes really close to ruining some tracks for me, but then I am drawn back in with the complexity and mindfulness that has gone into it. I also wish the drums sounded more realistic though I’m not terribly turned off by them. But this record is an example of something truly special in the heavy music world. It’s a huge “fuck you” to anyone saying there’s nothing new happening and even more of a direct counter to those who would say that everything has been done before. Zeal and Ardor are so close to perfect that I cannot wait to hear what comes next. MORE OF THIS PLEASE.
#1 – Myrkur: Mausoleum
Back in August when I reviewed this recording I wrote, “Amalie Bruun is a songwriting genius, Mausoleum is a masterpiece, and Myrkur is the project you will want to know about when your friends ask you what’s new and different.” Those words still hold true. The months have only changed the fact that this record has grown into something more epic for me. There is a beauty in darkness and this recording captures it perfectly, which is why it’s the top record for me.
You don’t need distorted guitars, hard hitting drums or screaming vocals to experience intensity. You don’t need a mosh pit to feel a kind of power that is overwhelming. You don’t need the common expectations of what you think music should be to feel captured; captivated by something that moves you emotionally. This record is perfect in many ways, and for me the most obvious is the ever-present darkness that is portrayed in a very real and raw way. This is true art on a recording. With so many awesome albums this year, I am picking Myrkur‘s, Mausoleum as my favorite. Well done.