Here they are: the top five entries in the Burning Ambulance countdown of the 25 best metal albums of 2013. (Click here to see #s 25-21; click here to see #s 20-16; click here to see #s 15-11; click here to see #s 10-6.) Enjoy!
Best Metal Albums of 2013, Part 5
5. Earthless, From the Ages (Tee Pee)
This is only the third studio album this San Diego power trio have released in a twelve-years-and-counting career (N.B.: their two-CD Live at Roadburn is every bit as essential as anything else in their catalog), and it’s the most monumental slab of amp-frying psychedelic hard rock they’ve issued to date. Its four tracks, culminating in the half-hour title piece, take post-Jimi Hendrix guitar pyrotechnics, courtesy of Isaiah Mitchell, to the far reaches of space-rock oblivion, as bassist Mike Eginton and drummer Mario Rubalcaba lay down a constantly shifting yet still somehow rock-steady foundation. You’ll headbang so hard you might need a neck brace afterward. (An in-depth profile of Earthless, including an interview with Isaiah Mitchell, can be read in Burning Ambulance #7.)
Stream “Violence of the Red Sea”:
4. Ihsahn, Das Seelenbrechen (Candlelight)
The fifth solo album from the former Emperor leader is his most personal to date; though he’s invited guests in on previous discs, this time he plays everything but the drums. It’s also the farthest from his black metal roots—two tracks, “Tacit 2” and “See,” were actually improvised in the studio, and sound like avant-garde art-rock. At other moments, though, he heads backward, to the ’70s sounds of Pink Floyd and Robin Trower. With Das Seelenbrechen, Ihsahn has made an album which is simultaneously incredibly personal and extremely outwardly directed. It’s a manifesto, not only lyrically but methodologically, a way of saying to the metal community at large, “Other options are available to you.” In this way, it puts him in the company of experimenters like Yakuza, Khanate, Krallice, and other bands determined to stretch metal’s boundaries. (Ihsahn is the subject of Burning Ambulance #7’s cover story.)
3. Attila, About That Life (Razor & Tie)
Metal isn’t all glowering and Satan; the genre needs party albums, too, and this Atlanta-based deathcore squad have made one of the best in years. Savage, downtuned riffing; concussive drums blasting out rhythms rooted in southern hip-hop; and nihilistic, party-till-someone-gets-hurt lyrics—alternately growled in death metal style and sneered in a manner recalling redneck hard rockers like Guns N’ Roses, Junkyard, and Hellyeah—it’s a recipe for raucous, fist-in-the-air joy. Attila are the kind of band “serious” metal fans live to despise, but its blend of seismic bass, gleeful ignorance, and fist-pumping choruses (most of which contain the word “fuck”) is guaranteed to put a smile on the face of anyone who enjoys loud, dumb fun.
Stream “About That Life”:
2. Amon Amarth, Deceiver of the Gods (Metal Blade)
Sweden’s Amon Amarth are one of the most consistent bands in modern metal, up there with Motörhead and Napalm Death. They haven’t made a bad album…well, ever, and since their fourth full-length, 2002′s Versus the World, they’ve been on a decade-plus streak that shows no sign of abating. Deceiver of the Gods marks some small but notable changes for the band: For the first time, they’ve recorded outside of Sweden (at Backstage Studios in the UK), and after three albums with producer Jens Bogren, they’ve chosen to work with Andy Sneap instead. Frontman Johan Hegg‘s deep, gravelly roar is perfectly intelligible at all times, particularly when he’s bellowing the songs’ anthemic choruses. Behind him, guitarists Olavi Mikkonen and Johan Söderberg crank out riffs as catchy as any in hard rock or metal, and the rhythm section of bassist Ted Lundström and drummer Fredrik Andersson keep things rumbling along with an almost metronomic precision. Amon Amarth are at the peak of their powers, utterly confident and aware of both the boundaries and the potential of their chosen style. These are vital, hard-charging songs that even a first-time listener can enjoy, but loyal fans (like me) will be even more pleased that their favorite band has once again come through as expected. (Read our full review.)
Stream “Father of the Wolf”:
1. Black Sabbath, 13 (Vertigo)
This album was wrapped in controversy before it ever came out. Intended to be a full reunion of the original lineup—vocalist Ozzy Osbourne, guitarist Tony Iommi, bassist Geezer Butler, and drummer Bill Ward—it became 75 percent of that when Ward and the other three couldn’t come to terms. Ultimately, 13 was recorded with Rage Against the Machine/Audioslave drummer Brad Wilk behind the kit, and while there could have been other choices (Ozzy’s live drummer Tommy Clufetos, Clutch‘s Jean-Paul Gaster, even Jason Bonham), Wilk does very well. The most important thing is, Iommi and Butler work together very well on 13. Their complementary dynamic—Iommi the jackhammer, Butler the bulldozer—remains intact, and even with Wilk functioning as (mostly) a timekeeper, there’s plenty of visceral impact here. And while the riffs and grooves here are at times strongly reminiscent of the band’s back catalog, that’s an inevitability, not self-plagiarism. Bands have styles: Slayer songs sound like Slayer; Motörhead songs sound like Motörhead; Iron Maiden songs sound like Iron Maiden. That’s even more true of bands that have created entire genres in their image. What keeps the songs on 13 interesting is the way Sabbath move things in slightly unpredictable directions, or take them just a little bit farther out than they might have done decades earlier. The most obvious difference is in track length—few songs in the classic Sabbath catalog came close to the eight- and nine-minute epics heard here. But Iommi and Butler aren’t playing exactly like they did between 1969 and 1975—Sabbath’s sound shifted when Ronnie James Dio and Vinny Appice joined in the early ’80s, and there are elements of that more traditionally metallic style here. And Iommi has continued to grow as a player; some of his solos on 13 are among the best he’s ever recorded. This is no cash grab, and no watered-down rehash of past glories. For metal fans, Black Sabbath are the most important band to ever plug in, and 13 is a very worthy addition to their legacy. (Read our full review.)
Watch the video for “End of the Beginning”: