My Year in Metal, 2013 - 15 Favorite Albums

I've been silent of late, working on a metal-related software project in my free time (more on that soon).  That didn't stop me from writing about my favorite albums of 2013, of course.  This year, the list is bandcamp-centric, so you can find it over at Metal Bandcamp.  Many thanks go out to Max for his generous support.


Gigan - Multi-Dimensional Fractal Sorcery and Super Science (Willowtip, 2013)

Some albums, like mathematical formulae, require a revelation.  This is what we live for, the moment when an album’s enzymes cause an unlooked for catalytic catharsis.  Gigan’s music has always interested me, but it’s never induced a chemical reaction.  Multi-Dimensional Fractal Sorcery and Super Science changes that in spectacular fashion.

Although typically tagged as tech-death, Gigan just don’t sport a weedily-Wilton aroma on this record.  Eric Hersemann’s careening riffs are borne of wild astral forces, possessing a frantic and frightening immediacy.  These chromatic acrobatics and contortions amaze and delight without turning into a carnival.  The crystalline riffs and perplexing rhythms speak to me in grindcore tongues. I’m hearing whispers of Discordance Axis and Dephosphorus. I like what they’re saying.

Multi-Dimensional Fractal Sorcery and Super Science has a deliberately ornate and alien atmosphere.  Every corner of its soundscape is crawling with intricate minutia; you’ve got to admire the attention to detail. Some of the album’s sparser moments are its finest. “Mother of Toads” feels like the product of a xenomorphic Primus, with a freak tremolized riff riding a barrage of perfectly absurd percussion.

Cold-blooded howls burst from the beating heart of this album.  Eston Browne has perfectly synthesized the venom and brutality he perfected in Salö and Humanity Falls, respectively. The humanity of this cacodemonic rage helps to balance the album’s science and sorcery; I can somehow relate to Gigan’s mystifying madness.

Somewhere along the line, Multi-Dimensional Fractal Sorcery and Super Science swept me up in its anomalous onslaught.  It took a few spins for the epiphany to occur, but I’ve been craving these cryptic transmissions and vicious grooves ever since.  Perhaps you, too, can become a vessel of these cosmic communications.

Multi-Dimensional Fractal Sorcery and Super Science is out on October 15th via Willowtip.  You can stream the entire album here.


Reinventing the Surgical Steel

My recent concert experiences have left me with cold feelings.  I’ve been missing the suspension of disbelief, the process whereby my body surrenders to the metal and becomes a vessel of headbanging rage and rapture.  I could attribute this to jaded age, the cone of silence proffered by obligatory earplugs, or any number of grumpy excuses.  Last week that veil was pierced by Carcass and Immolation.  In addition to losing myself in the ferocity of the evening’s proceedings, I was also able to come to terms with Surgical Steel.  My relationship with Carcass’ überhyped reunion album is complicated, with roots digging down into my own metal infancy.

Heartwork was my death metal revelation, one of the first signposts on my road to hell. It changed everything, overturning the Metallica, Megadeth, Maiden, and Sepultura albums that had ruled my heart until that moment in 1993.  Heartwork became the soundtrack to my high school years, its esoteric, intellectual beauty and overt elitism setting the tone for my adolescent existence.  It’s still my favorite album of all time.

When Swansong came out, I was devastated.  My ears had pushed further into brutality; Suffocation was more my style at that point.  The heaviness, speed, and soul had been sucked from my favorite band, perhaps by the music business itself.  But Swansong was still filled with righteous riffs and songwriting mojo; it stayed in my car stereo throughout that summer before college.  As the negative reviews poured in, my consternation and contrarianism won out; I became a vocal Swansong proponent.  I’ll still defend the album ‘til blue in the face.

The first Carcass reunion tour bore unbelievable fruits; the resurrection of metal heroes had not yet become a clichéd, cash-driven industrial complex.  I could not comprehend Carcass creating new music; some sacred sarcophagi should remain sealed.  But new music was born nonetheless.  As the release of Surgical Steel approached, I steeled myself for disappointment.  It’s the way of life.  It’s just how things go.  The release of “Captive Bolt Pistol” did nothing to alleviate my doubts; all I could hear was Arsis and Soilwork and Arch Enemy and seventeen years of copycat melodic death regurgitated.  I was blinded by fear.

My first listen to Surgical Steel in its entirety was a bizarre experience.  There were sparks of brilliance, fleeting moments of old feelings, but no magic.  That first spin set off my alarms, breaking heartstrings and filling me with smug dissatisfaction.  I hope for the best but expect the worst.  This shouldn’t have been so complicated.  I had set up an impossible goalpost for the band and the album.

Naturally, I continued to listen to Surgical Steel, repeatedly and obsessively.  My misgivings faded but didn’t disappear entirely.  Could an album that compels daily spins really be mediocre?  I bought a ticket to see Carcass play at the Gramercy Theater and schlepped to the show with zero expectations.

Immolation, as always, were incredible.  But that’s a story for another story.  Gramercy was packed to the gills and roiling with energy as “1985” played over the PA.  Carcass came out and ripped directly into “Buried Dreams,” the sound a balanced clarion call of death. The chills, the fucking chills.

The setlist was glorious, but the Surgical Steel tracks stole the show.  Filled with urgency and ripping, dripping precision, the new songs fit perfectly amongst the gore-filled gems of years past.  I couldn’t stop smiling, or headbanging, or playing every riff and solo on my genuine Acme air guitar.  I lost my pretentions, let it go, and found that old feeling, “the ecstasy of enmity.” I walked out of the concert filled with much joy and neck-pain, thinking this unfathomable thought: I wish Carcass had played more new songs.  I’m sold; Surgical Steel is the real thing.

(Note: cozy up to the soundboard at the Gramercy Theater if you want a show to sound like non-shit).


Beaten To Death - Dødsfest! (Mas-Kina Records, 2013)

Beaten To Death give gloriously little in the way of fucks.  The band can be found assiduously shitting in the woods, just off the beaten path of metal.  I loved the band's debut, and Dødsfest! finds the band again grinding out absurdly ferocious, melodic, addictive, and categorically uncharacterizable music.

The first thing you’ll notice about Dødsfest! is the production; the guitars are barely distorted, and the bass bounces on top of the mix with ballistic pointillism.  The album has a gloriously odd center of gravity, feeling simultaneously compressed and airy.

Beyond its acoustic dementia, Dødsfest! is a rabid smorgasbord of styles, united by a disregard for convention. Beaten to Death bring plenty of blastbeaten grind to the table, mincing dissonance and speed with inhuman skill.  There are oodles of grooves and the occasional over-the-top breakdown; it all just works.  The album’s most salient feature, however, is its blatant melodicism. Indie-rock poignance is poured copiously into the album’s voracious maw.

The appropriation of cross-genre aesthetics into metal is a theme, of course (see Deafheaven).  Such purposeful and calculated maneuvers usually set off my bullshit detector, for better or worse.  Beaten to Death pull this off, somehow, in a manner that I can enjoy without twinges of misgiving.  This chaos doesn’t feel like a marketing ploy, but more like a car crash, a demolition derby for its own sake.  Follow me?

Most importantly, Beaten to Death manage to shape their ear-mangling machinations into discernable, recognizable and memorable songs.  Its lifespan is brief, but Dødsfest! leaves a mental mark.  I’m quite happy that there’s a continuity between Xes And Strokes and Dødsfest!. There’s a vision in this aural entropy; it’s just wonderfully fucked up.

Dødsfest! is out on October 4th via Mas-Kina Records.  Check out a sample below and stream the entire album here.  I expect to pick this up on Bandcamp when it’s available.


Road Raging

I’ve been driving a lot for work.  In fact, I’ve been working a lot for work; a new job is the source of my extended and egregious absence from writing.  My usual commute is an hour and a half door-to-door, with a nice, quiet, hour-long train ride in the middle.  This new job requires occasional drives to a client-site, and that site is a savage seventy-three miles from my house.  Naturally, a road trip requires a perfectly raging soundtrack.  Picking over the CD collection for worthy albums becomes a time-consuming ritual, invariably delaying my morning departure.

The obsessive care cast upon the selection process is often for naught; many, many albums are unlistenable in my car.  The factory stereo is devoid of mids and washed out with overwhelming bass.  Road noise further degrades the experience.  Some albums can cut through the sonic sludge, but others cross the line into inaudible noise.  I’ve got a mental model of the music in my collection, and I can only handle modest deviation.  Although I’m an avowed fidelity fiend, I’ve never attempted to upgrade my car stereo.  I simply don’t drive enough, and the on-street parking at my house would beg for instantaneous plunder.

I’ve tried to identify aural criteria that would predict an album’s automotive compatibility.  Massive mid-range crunch most certainly helps, but it’s not an automatic benchmark.  Subtle melody doesn’t translate well; success is more likely in all-out, audacious harmony or blatant atonal dissonance.  A subdued drum mix usually helps to increase the odds of audibility.  Dense production is most often a deal breaker.

I’ve thought extensively about all of this, of course, but it has no bearing on my drive-morning ritual.  I blithely scan the racks for whatever might strike my fancy and find my results on the road.  When my journeys are done, I return the car to its rightful owner (my wife, of course).  Like clockwork, she’ll flip on the stereo, expecting to find Charles Trénet or Brenton Wood but instead will be greeted by Barney Greenway.  Sincerest apologies, my love.

Behold the results of my sonic survey:

Opeth – Still Life
Megadeth – Peace Sells
Morbid Angel – Formulas Fatal to the Flesh
In Flames – Whoracle
Exhumed – Necrocracy
Napalm Death – Diatribes
Gardenian – Sindustries
Death – Sound of Perseverance
Carcass – Wake Up and Smell the Carcass
Iron Maiden – Killers
Castevet – Mounds of Ash

Immolation – Shadows in the Light
Pallbearer – Sorrow and Extinction
Dissection – Storm of the Light’s Bane
The Lord Weird Slough Feg – Twilight of the Idols
Napalm Death – Utopia Banished
Carcass – Symphonies of Sickness
Exhumed - Slaughtercult


Indispensible Detritus, 1Q13

I wish I had time for scholarly explication of all the music I find worthwhile.  Alas, my bandwidth is limited, and my writing process is too tortured.  I got into this music writing racket to spread the good word, so I’m cutting corners here to further that cause. Behold a handful of albums I bought in the first quarter of 2013 that are worth your time and money (in my opinion, of course).  Don’t say I didn’t tell you so.

P.L.F. – Devious Persecution and Wholesale Slaughter (Six Weeks Records)

P.L.F. serve up the neck-snapping grind with a perfect ratio of meat to gristle.  This album pits scrumptious riffs against hyperspeed grooves, odd whiffs of Discordance Axis and tantalizing tastes of thrashing Absu madness.  The mind-splattering battery comes courtesy of the tireless Bryan Fajardo.  Devious Persecution and Wholesale Slaughter is my kind of grind; P.L.F. master sinuous, slamming precision.

Krypts – Unending Degradation (Dark Descent Records)

On their full-length debut, Krypts play by all the rules of old school death.  The band, however, use those close confines to amplify the carnage, rattling the cage with righteous riffs and magisterial overtones.  Krypts wrestle in the mud with Incantation-style putrescence, but also conjure Autopsy with stupid-huge, bass-blasting grooves. Unending Degradation gives my neck a consistent, involuntary workout, summoning the inexpressible essence of death metal.

Necrowretch – Putrid Death Sorcery (Century Media)

I almost missed out on one of the best albums of the year because Necrowretch is a goofy band name, and the album title isn’t much better.  Thankfully, I saw the unlight and picked up this fine piece of rampaging death-black thaumaturgy.  Necrowretch inhabit a circle of hell where Dissection and Incantation melt together in amorphous mastery. The vocals sport some of the same bizarro, windswept inflection as Teitanblood, tying up this unhinged package with panache.  Guided by sensibility, killing instinct, and mad mojo riffage, Putrid Death Sorcery is habit-forming.

Eight Bells – The Captain’s Daughter (Seventh Rule Records)

Eight Bells’ eclectic meanderings add up to more than the sum of their parts.  The Captain’s Daughter plies a pleasing post-rock weirdness, peppering your ears with acts of aggression and moments of abject beauty.  Eight Bells are a power trio of female majority, and the brief vocal outbursts represent that balance.  The band aren’t afraid to float off on amorphous interstellar jams, but these are wrangled to earth by resonant arrangements that recall Gordian Knot or latter day Cynic.  The Captain’s Daughter is terse and captivating; these are hymns of mind-melting magnificence.


Thrawsunblat - Wanderer on the Continent of Saplings (Self-released, 2013)

I wrote about Thrawsunblat's extraordinary new album over at Metal Injection.  Incredible stuff.


Enslaved - Mardraum: Beyond the Within (Osmose, 2000)

I wrote about my favorite Enslaved album for Metal Injection over here.


Suffocation - Pinnacle of Bedlam (Nuclear Blast, 2013)

I reviewed Suffocation's rejuvenative new album over at Metal Injection.  It hits the spot with a vengeance.


Polluted Inheritance - Ecocide (Vic Records, 2013)

Every once in a very blue moon I’ll throw on an album for the first time and approach that mythical mental vortex where my 17-year-old self and my 34-year-old self agree entirely about said album.  I was led unknowingly to this metal singularity by a blind listen to Ecocide, by Polluted Inheritance.  The album is redolent of Florida and all things recorded there circa 1992.  Think Malevolent Creation’s Retribution circling the pit with Utopia Banished, The End Complete, and a dropkick of Assück’s Anticapital.

While parading around my house, moshing wildly and banging my head with abandon, it occurred to me that Polluted Inheritance might not be the best new death metal band in existence; a fact check was in order.  Lo and behold, Ecocide WAS released in 1992 and has long been out of print. Vic records is re-issuing the album.

Ecocide is a masterful blast of addictive riffs, righteous rhythms, pitch perfect growls, and hilariously blunt lyrics.  Polluted Inheritance are a long lost jewel of the Netherlands and Ecocide is Florida-style death metal mojo incarnate.  The original album was evidently a hot commodity (supposedly fetching over $300 on eBay). I can assure you that had I known of Ecocide’s existence, I would be one of the schmucks queuing up to pay $300 for the CD.

Obviously, Polluted Inheritance never registered on my metal radar; had they done so, this album would be a well-worn highlight of my music collection.  How has this band remained hidden? Why the fuck didn't anyone tell me about them?


Ecocide will be released on February 26th.  Order it here.  Check out a tune below:


Lightning Swords of Death - Baphometic Chaosium (Metal Blade, 2013)

I wrote about the new Lightning Swords Of Death album for Metal Injection. Baphometic Chaosium is good stuff; it'll get your goat rockin'.  Check out the review over here.


On Swimming, Suffocation, and Cloud Rat

Swimming is my exercise of choice.  I somehow manage to dodge the low-flung-dung life tosses my way and hit the pool religiously three times a week.  Ironically, I achieve very little on a daily basis without music to motivate me, and headphones don’t work well under water.  As a result, pool time is orchestrated by the music in my head.  The soundtrack is a litmus test for the albums I’ve got in rotation; how memorable are those riffs?

Yesterday my underwater mental playlist started with Cloud Rat’s grind-punk masterpiece, Moksha.  This album is the finest piece of grind to come into my life since Wormrot’s Abuse.  From top to bottom, the riffs, beats, and screams comprise a virulently addictive catharsis.

Moksha is only available on LP at the moment, with no legal digital downloads to be had (although a release on Grindcore Karaoke is rumored for the not so distant future).  To get my hands on the digital download, I bought the LP.  I don’t even own a turntable, but I wanted to own this album; it’s that good.  But I diverge; Cloud Rat move me and make me move.

The needle on my swim session soon skipped to my latest obsession, Suffocation’s Pinnacle of Bedlam.  I’ll be writing much more about this album shortly, but my ears say it’s their best work in 18 years.  These tunes pack ridiculous mojo.  The riffs have been consuming my consciousness and were easy enough to conjure in the pool; I whipped myself into a windmilling fury with these songs in mind.  At one point I was convinced I could punch through the tiles at the end of the pool and swim through concrete.

I always come home from a swim with a deep desire to crank the stereo and actualize my metal reverie.  Rather hilariously, though, the inevitable water in my ears taints all music with a warbly, weeble-wobbly perversion; the pitch shifts unpredictably. I’ve had some really good laughs at how weird music sounds with an earful of pool water.  But it goes away, and I rock another day, and swim the next.


Dead Empires - Waiting in Waves (Self-Released, 2012)

A little while back I wrote about Dead Empires' Waiting in Waves for Metal Bandcamp.  The album's a rip-roaring and raucous instrumental adventure; definitely worth a listen or ten.  Check it out over here.


Vex - Memorious (Horror Pain Gore Death Productions, 2013)

I reviewed Memorious, the tremendous new album from Vex. I don't need to look deep into the crystal ball to envision this on my 2013 year-end list.  Check it out over at Metal Injection.



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