Welcome to Burning Ambulance’s annual rundown of the best metal albums of the year. As we did last year, we’ll be spotlighting five albums per day. Let’s begin!
25. Torch Runner, Endless Nothing (Buy It)
Torch Runner are a North Carolina-based band who fit snugly between the “Entombed-core” of bands like Nails and Black Breath, and the feedback-laced sludge of Eyehategod. The vocals are a hoarsely barked mess that sounds like a near-perfect imitation of EHG’s Mike IX Williams, minus the unnerving howls; meanwhile, the music is straight from the school of Kurt Ballou (Converge guitarist and noted producer of underground, critically acclaimed heaviness). Endless Nothing packs 13 songs into 22 minutes, blasting along at hardcore speed most of the time but occasionally slowing down for a punishing wallow in grime and noise. Every time the guitarist stops riffing for so much as a second, there’s a shriek of feedback like an alarm telling him to get on with it already. Occasionally, as on “Rebirth,” a track will end with an interlude of staticky noise. A fierce, breathless sprint of an album, Endless Nothing satisfies.
24. Baring Teeth, Ghost Chorus Among Old Ruins (Buy It)
The second album by this Dallas-based trio blends dissonant guitar clang and throbbing avalanches of drums with guttural, grizzly-bearish vocals reminiscent of Isis‘s Aaron Turner. The eight-song, 37-minute disc is studded with riffs that suddenly double back on themselves, like early ’00s mathcore riffs played on a skipping turntable. The lyrics seem more like an adornment than an attempt at communication, as they’re indecipherable, but still recognizably the product of a human voice. There’s a strong debt being paid to bands like Keelhaul, Knut, and other acts that have compellingly blurred the lines between burly hardcore and jagged art-rock, but there’s more than enough uniqueness to the record, particularly at its most machine-gun assaultive (as in the second half of “Mountains”), to make it well worth any noise-rocker’s time. If you’re having a kick-a-stranger kind of day, this’ll be the perfect soundtrack to the next forty minutes of your life.
23. Cretin, Stranger (Buy It)
In the eight years since California death/grind act Cretin released an album, they’ve undergone some major personal and professional transitions. Formerly an all-male trio, they’re now a gender-balanced quartet. Singer/guitarist Dan Martinez has become Marissa Martinez, and they’ve brought in a second guitarist, Elizabeth Schall, to join bassist Matt Widener and drummer Col Jones. They’ve evolved musically, too, if only a little. (There’s relatively little room for evolution in a form as atavistic as this, and that’s a good thing.) Their last full-length, 2006’s Freakery, was pure old-school grindcore in the realm of Repulsion, early Brutal Truth, and Terrorizer. Stranger picks up where that album left off, with plenty of blast beats and buzzsaw riffing, plus occasional detours into loose, rumbling death metal grooves. But the presence of that second guitar is crucial, bringing a real heaviness that was absent before, and there’s even some shredding here and there.
22. AEvangelist, Writhes in the Murk (Buy It)
This album truly lives up to its title. The third release by a mysterious US trio, it blends black metal, electronic noise, death metal and industrial into a clanging, blurry collage that sounds like Anaal Nathrakh coming through your next-door neighbor’s wall. It takes a lot of work to make something sound this lo-fi and ugly while still remaining musical, but they do it. The way the guitars in the opening track, “Hosanna,” just chug relentlessly like a wheel spinning in mud, as vaguely unnerving sound effects creep in from the sides of the stereo field and the drum machine batters along like it’s steam-powered…it’s frankly disturbing, and utterly refuses to offer the catharsis that should be the point of metal, but it’s still somehow incredibly compelling stuff, not just a wash of pointless noise like, say, Portal. Recommended to fans of Esoteric‘s early albums, cassette demos fished out of puddles, and misanthropy.
21. Mastodon, Once More ‘Round the Sun (Buy It)
Mastodon have always been a peaks-and-valleys band, their genuinely brilliant albums (Leviathan, Crack the Skye) bracketed by much less interesting ones (Remission, Blood Mountain, The Hunter). Once More ’Round the Sun isn’t a peak, but it’s not a valley, either. It kicks off with the furious riff-storm of “Tread Lightly,” which leads straight into the hard-grooving “The Motherload” and sets the tone for the rest of the record in the process. The vocals are cleaner than ever, as though they or their label thought there was a chance of radio airplay; the songs are catchier, too, though still firmly within the realm of chugging Southern metal. Mastodon may be moving away from their progressive explorations (though not entirely; “Diamond in the Witch House” creeps up on the eight-minute mark), but they’re staying in touch with their fist-pumping, headbanging side, and that feels like the better bet, career longevity-wise.