To celebrate the end of 2013, I'll not be posting some heavy-handed reflection that I gained from looking back over the past year. That's for people who lack ideas. I almost always lack ideas when it comes to blogging, but since another year has come and gone, I can inflict my unfounded opinions on the world again by listing my favorite music of the year.
Last year I did this as well, and just like last year I'll be posting two separate lists differentiated by genre - as in metal (and any sort of hard music) and everything else. I decided to go the boring route last year and simply list my favorite releases in groups of ten for each genre, resulting in a mere twenty albums. You can find my list of last year's metal albums here. This year, I'd like to try something different.
Instead of posting a bland list of ten items, every album will be listed under a category, i.e. "favorite artwork", "silliest song titles", etc. This allows for way more creativity and variety, with no set order or numeric limitations. I'll also list some albums that were disappointments, because focusing on the negative is always funny. Basically, I'm excited about a concept that celebrates the more mundane things because it's less work and more fun. That's what blogging is about, right?
Anyways, let there be no more fanfare. Just bear in mind that I don't review anything for a living (only fun) and that my opinion is strictly unprofessional, unless you want to pay me.
BEST ALBUM BY I BAND I LIKED IN HIGH SCHOOL AND THAT I STILL ENJOY LISTENING TO
August Burns Red - Rescue & Restore
I've been all about this band since the release of their 2005 debut, Thrill Seeker. Their technicality only got tighter and their breakdowns more brutal and numerous on their follow-up, Messengers. Riding (and in some ways, leading) the wave of metalcore bands that thrived in the first decade of the new millennium, ABR continued to push the envelope in terms of musical creativity in their later releases, eventually leading to Rescue & Restore - their fifth album. I've seen this band three times (though not since 2009) and they draw massive crowds, for good reason. I think they realize metalcore mostly died out a while ago and thus they continue to offer a refreshing take on the genre while remaining true to their roots. I believe this is their most impressive album to date, mostly due to the fact that the growth from their fourth album Leveler to this album is greater in terms of skill and execution than any of their earlier albums. The fact that I love this band as much as I did when I was 17 says something, no? And that was 8 years ago.
BEST ALBUM BY A BAND THAT INFLUENCED MY GUITAR PLAYING MORE THAN ANY OTHER BAND THIS YEAR
Counterparts - The Difference Between Hell & Home
Joining/starting a band is a tricky affair. You get together with a handful of other musically-minded individuals - each with their own musical ideas, preferences, and notions - and try to create something worth listening to and performing live. Oh, and everyone involved has to like it. There's always one guy that pretends to like it (I know because sometimes that guy was me). Anyways, I spent much of the first half of this year attempting to do just that with several of my roommates. We opted for the melodic hardcore approach, a genre with which I had little experience with playing and listening to. I was immediately told to listen to Counterparts, who had an album coming out soon. I picked up the album and liked what I heard. The Difference Between Hell & Home demonstrates exactly the style we were going for - hardcore with melodic undertones that embraces breakdowns and buildups liberally. Beautiful, brutal, and not overwhelmingly technical. That's what you'll get from this album. Also, don't read the lyrics to this album or you'll get depressed. Seriously, these dudes must hate life.
BEST ALBUM WITH DJENT ROOTS
Erra - Augment
In 2012, I discovered "djent", the infamous sub genre of metal characterized by the sound made by down-tuning a seven or eight string guitar and palm-muting and releasing quick staccato notes, usually in a series of oddly timed polyryhthms, creating some rather heavy grooves. These chugging riffs are often accompanied by light and airy guitar notes, creating an interesting juxtaposition. Sounds smart huh? The point is that the guitar tone makes a "djent" sound, giving the genre its name. The argument over whether or not djent is a real genre or rather a guitar sound has been beat to death, so I'll just avoid it by posting this link to a video of a bunch of djent bands. Erra's debut album Impulse was one of the first three albums I picked up. It interested me because it wasn't one of the slow and plodding djent bands like Meshuggah or Vildjharta, but it sported progressive metalcore elements and impressive clean vocals. That combination is a winner in my book, although on Augment I haven't the slightest idea of what any of the lyrics mean, which is a common theme amongst the genre.
If you're still confused about djent, here's a dude playing a djent cover of a Taylor Swift song:
BEST ALBUM BY AN AUSTRALIAN BAND
Northlane - Singularity
Keeping within the realm of djent, Northlane followed Erra, Elitist, and Tesseract as being among the first bands in the genre that I became fond of. Their debut album Discoveries ended up being one of my early favorites as I broke into the world of djent. I read a review of Discoveries on the now defunct website thenewreview.net (RIP). In it, the author stated that vocalist Adrian Fitipalde's screams reminded him of a higher-pitched Micah Kenard. That was pretty much all it took for me to listen to them. Northlane is more of a progressive metalcore band than they are djent (much like Erra), but their guitar tones are consistent with the genre's standards. However, I find them to be slightly heavier and less technical than Erra, relying less on clean vocals. Singularity opens with a short intro track, then blasts into "Scarab", a frantic opener that hits you in the face with its heaviness. It's pretty much my favorite thing to come out of the outback this year. I expect this band to be huge in the coming years, if they aren't already.
BEST ALBUM BY A SUPERBAND
Palms - Palms
A superband is a band that is comprised of members from several different bands that have experienced prior success, i.e. Velvet Revolver, A Perfect Circle, and Audioslave. Palms features Chino Moreno of Deftones fame on vocals, backed by three former members of the post-metal band Isis - Jeff Caxide (bass), Aaron Harris (guitars), and Bryant Clifford Meyer (guitars). I've thought for years that Chino has one of the best voices in hard music, regardless of genre - and his band has been doing it for a long time. Isis broke up in 2010, but three fifths of the members decided they still wanted to make music. The result of this experiment is pretty much exactly what you'd expect it to sound like - Chino's haunting vocals and grating screams set against the atmospheric sounds of Isis, glittering soundscapes and crushing guitars included - and it's awesome. Since hearing about this project almost two years ago, I've been patiently waiting for this album to come out. The wait was worth it. If you're a fan of Deftones, Isis, or hard music in general, this shouldn't disappoint you.
BEST INSTRUMENTAL ALBUM
Scale The Summit - The Migration
Instrumental music is important to me. I can't focus on tasks while listening to music with vocals. Mundane activities such as driving, reading, studying, sleeping, and even writing this post are helped along by listening to music without vocals. Scale The Summit's The Migration is my favorite instrumental album this year that falls under any category of metal, by far - as they are described as a progressive and experimental metal band. I loved their 2011 album The Collective, and much like that album, I've written many posts and fallen asleep several nights to The Migration. Plus, the album art is super cool. The Migration clicked with me because of its ability to be technical and beautiful without ten layers of instruments and the obligatory silly solos accompanying any prog rock band. There is simplicity in the songwriting here that calms me, even beneath the impressive demonstration of musical skill. "The Olive Tree" is one of my favorite songs of the year. I fell asleep to that song more times than I can count. And yes, that's an accomplishment, considering this is a progressive metal band.
BEST ALBUM BY A BAND THAT I DISCOVERED WAY TOO LATE IN LIFE
Shai Hulud - Reach Beyond The Sun
Shai Hulud. A name to be respected in the hardcore and metal scene. The band's been around for almost twenty years, going through over thirty members, influencing countless bands in each genre, as well as those outside of it. Despite this, they've only released four full-length albums. And I just got around to listening to them. When my roommates told me to listen to Counterparts to get a feel for the type of sound they wanted for our band, they also mentioned that I should check out Shai Hulud, as they had an album coming out as well. Reach Beyond The Sun is one of the most impressive albums I've listened to this year, by a band that's been doing it forever. The hardcore elements are there, as well as the complex guitar playing of Matt Fox, who is the only original remaining member of the band. If I was better at guitar, I suspect my songs would sound like Shai Hulud. I could also list them under a bunch of other categories. Best band name - they're named after the sandworms in the science fiction novel Dune. That's the most metal thing ever. They have the smartest lyrics out of all of the bands in this post. Also, they probably have the worst album art. That's ok. Any band that's been around for as long as these guys can do whatever they want, and they'd still slay at whatever it is.
BEST ALBUM BY A BAND THAT ALL MY FRIENDS MAKE FUN OF ME FOR LISTENING TO
Within The Ruins - Elite
Dat album art. Dat band name font. This band represents everything my friends/roommates dislike about my taste in heavier music. None of them particularly enjoy metal, especially not the death/metalcore brand of music these guys put out. I don't care. Sometimes a man has to listen to death metal, sprinkled with elements of deathcore and prog rock alike, while the vocalists bellows at you about how elite their band is. It's a primal longing. I went to see The Contortionist earlier this year and Within The Ruins headlined. I had only just started listening to them, but they blew away The Contortionist, and solidified my fanhood that day. Also, I purchased my very first pair of fight shorts:
Except mine are WAY cooler. This is the most basic design ever. Any band that makes shorts for you to wear while you punch out all the smaller kids in the pit is pretty metal in my book.
MY FAVORITE METAL ALBUM OF 2013
Misery Signals - Absent Light
This is my favorite metal album of 2013, and it's not really close. I've been waiting for Absent Light for five years. Prior to this release, 2008 was the last time any new music came out of the Misery Signals camp. I had just transferred to Abilene Christian University, Obama was elected, and the Bengals went 4-11-1. Different times. The release of Absent Light was accompanied by a US tour, which just so happened to stop in Seattle in August (read about that concert here). While Counterparts' album influenced my playing style this year in the formation of my band, Misery Signals has influenced my guitar writing more than any other band since I picked up the instrument all those years ago. To me, this band has always been the perfect balance between beautiful and heavy, melodic and brutal. And they put on a heck of a show. I got kicked in the forehead when I saw them, and it was awesome. Listen to this album now.
Impending Doom - Death Will Reign. Deathcore might be a silly genre (especially if the band is Christian, like IP), but I think it's fun. Crushingly heavy and unforgiving. Perfect for driving!
Revocation - Revocation. I just started listening to this band within the past month to cure a death metal itch I'd been having (it's a serious problem). Had I found them earlier they would have made the list.
Still Remains - Ceasing To Breathe. Only because it's awesome that a band I listened to in high school put out an album after not doing so since 2007. It's not that good, but the teenager in me likes it.
Born of Osiris - Tomorrow We Die Alive. Don't get me started. Far and away the biggest disappointment of the year. They fired guitarist Jason Richardson, and it shows. The complex leads and riffs have been almost completely replaced by repetitive chugs and overbearing synths. I would skip this one, as it's a shame it followed an album as good as The Discovery.
The Safety Fire - Mouth of Swords. This band made my best-of list last year with their debut Grind The Ocean. However, their sophomore effort didn't grip me as much. There are too many clean vocals and not enough crushing riffs. However, I saw them with BTBAM and they do put on a great show.
Oh, Sleeper - The Titan EP. Ok, it's not that it was BAD, it's just that it was different. There was a random guest solo on "Death From Above" by Falling in Reverse guitarist Jacky Vincent that felt super out of place, not to mention the guest vocals of former Periphery vocalist Casey Sabol on "The Pitch". The production seems raw because it was independently released/recorded. Decent, but nothing great.
LOOKING FORWARD TO MUSIC BY:
Darkest Hour - I haven't been high on them since 2007's Deliver Us. I've been craving some melodic death metal, and these guys will hopefully bring it on their as of yet untitled album coming out in 2014.
Zao - this band is legendary, but I never really got excited about their past two albums. I didn't even know they were still making music. Their Facebook updates say otherwise, meaning new Zao in 2014, which we haven't been able to say since 2009.
Tool - self explanatory. Figured I'd put this here because I've been waiting every year since 2006. That was the year I graduated high school, to put things in perspective.
There you have it. Some ups, some downs, some exciting things, some not-so-exciting things. I ended last year's post by stating that I hoped 2013 had some good heavy music to offer, and it did. Hopefully I helped someone out there discover some new music. That's why I do it!
I'll be posting my list of non-metal albums later this week. Stay tuned!