Welcome to the Burning Ambulance end-of-year countdown. Here’s how this is gonna work: Two lists will be published simultaneously—one covering the 25 best jazz albums of 2013, and one covering the 25 best rock/metal albums of 2013. Five albums from each list per day. Let’s get started!
Best Rock/Metal Albums of 2013, Part 1
25. Atlantean Kodex, The White Goddess (20 Buck Spin)
The second album by this German band strives to be something larger than the sound of mortal men playing musical instruments. Its widescreen production seeks to inspire awe. Meticulously edited and carefully placed sound effects (wind, crackling fires, rumbling explosions in the distance) and sampled Winston Churchill speeches provide dramatic atmosphere and a ground over which their long songs—of the eight tracks, three are interludes of two minutes or less, and the other five run between seven and 11 minutes—can unfurl. Sometimes they gallop like Iron Maiden (“White Goddess Unveiled”); other times they march nobly forward like Manowar in slow-burn mode (“Heresiarch”). They’re always larger than life, though, which is more welcome than ever in the desolate post-Dio times in which we live.
Endless Boogie continue to live up to their name on their latest album. This one’s a little heavier than its predecessors, though; their version of the blooze owes more this time to big-footed stompers like Cactus and three-name ’70s acts (Beck, Bogert & Appice; West, Bruce & Laing) than on earlier releases, when Free and Savoy Brown could be more easily pointed out as antecedents. As always, the key to their appeal is their ability to lock down a one-chord riff and ride it to the edge of sanity and beyond, as the hoarse, guttural vocals periodically erupt. This is the best kind of slow-burning rock; when it gets going, time seems to lose all meaning. There is no future, no past, no life, no death, only the endless boogie.
A lot of headbangers freaked out when Lemmy—a hard-drinking, reportedly crystal-meth-using, 67-year-old diabetic—was taken ill earlier this year and had to undergo surgery, receive a coronary stent, and cancel a bunch of tour dates. What do you mean, Dad’s sick? As a consequence, this album, which has at least three too many songs (“Coup de Grace,” “Queen of the Damned” and “Keep Your Powder Dry” could all go), has been overrated. Make no mistake, it’s very good, but that’s because Motörhead, in particular the lineup that’s been together the last 21 years (guitarist Phil Campbell is celebrating his 30th year with the band in 2013), are a killer band whose work never dips beneath a minimum standard of quality. It’s probably the fifth best of their 21st Century albums—better than We are Motörhead or Motörizer, but not as good as Hammered, Kiss of Death, Inferno or The Wörld is Yours—and that still makes it better than 90 percent of what came out this year.
Watch the video for “Heartbreaker”:
22. Hail of Bullets, III: The Rommel Chronicles (Metal Blade)
As its title indicates, this is the third album (there’s also been a six-song, half-studio/half-live EP) from this band, an all-star Dutch death metal project featuring members of Asphyx, Gorefest, Thanatos, and about a dozen other acts. Their music is grinding, downtuned and fast, reminiscent of the aforementioned bands as well as Bolt Thrower, Grave, Entombed and other rightfully beloved early ’90s outfits. It’s got a bare-knuckle punch and a greasiness that seems to cling to your skin. All the lyrics are about World War II; the debut dealt with battles on the Russian front, the follow-up covered the Pacific, and on this album, the subject is Africa. Even if you ignore the words, and just let frontman Martin van Drunen‘s raw-throated barking become one more instrument, the band’s machine-gun drumming and fist-pumping, headbanging riffs will win you over. This kind of metal is as deceptively simple, and powerful, as the blues; once it’s in you, it never comes all the way out, and hearing old pros do it well is a real joy.
Easily the weirdest album on this countdown, Warufuzake (the title translates to “Horseplay”) is the major label debut by Utsu-P, a Japanese producer who’s spent the last several years making metal songs with vocals provided by Vocaloid software characters like Hatsune Miku, GUMI and Kagamine Rin. By shoving their voices through guitar effects pedals, he’s even managed to create a disturbing equivalent to extreme metal vocal techniques, causing the girls to sound like hissing demons. The music is a blend of thrash and metalcore, with plenty of breakdowns and the occasional outburst of disco rhythm or progressive/jazz-fusion-ish bass. The songs are intricate and complex, and the synthetic instruments (particularly the drums) are impressively produced and mixed. The lyrics tackle unexpected subjects; some are written from the POV of cats observing humanity, while others are harshly critical of the Japanese pop music scene in an almost Devo-ish way.