‘Enough Is Enough Is Enough Is Enough…’ or ‘Not Quite The Albums of 2013’

Posted: December 31, 2013 in Metal
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

At the foot of this ramble is the first instalment of my Top 50 albums of the year. “50!?” I hear you cry! Yes, 50. The reason being 2013 has been a “good year” for metal. While there may not be many game-changers, nevertheless it’s been a year that has provided us with a lot of good stuff to get excited about, share and recommend, so why would I pause before passing on recommendations about those nuggets that sit just below the radar?

Because I’ve recently read a few things that have made me consider whether I should be such the metal explorer and have searched out and checked such a mass compendium of metal over the year. It started with this excellent article from Doug Moore on the ‘Invisible Oranges’ site, which referenced several other pieces, including this by David Gerrard  and an ongoing series of articles penned by one of my former Terrorizer colleagues Keith Harris-Khan.  These well written and considered articles move the conversation well beyond “Is Downloading good (or bad, m’kay) for bi’niz”, to looking at whether there is too much out there available to our dirty little lug’oles.

After reading the above articles, I had a Twitter engagement with another former Terrorizer scribe and colleague (we get everywhere) Nick Moberly. I’d said I liked more than 50 albums this year (and would rate 50 or more at four fists or higher) but of those, I’d probably keep 20, of which I’d buy (or have bought) about 10 – the real “keepers”.

His response was: “If you wouldn’t happily buy an album, it shouldn’t be on the list! Critics’ lists are really (now) ‘least-bad’ albums.” “Critics tend to over-justify crap that labels/bands emit. Key test is persistence of listening. Or else no point!”

And he has a point. A bloody good one. A trawl through my itunes shows that since the turn of the millennium, on average I’ve bought/kept 5-10 albums a year (several I’ve bought have subsequently found their way to Music Magpie…) only. Those are the only ones with any real longevity for me. And of this years’ crop, can I say with confidence I’ll still have all of my Top 25? I guess only time will tell.

Things are different considering albums released in the 90’s, with an average of around 20 a year owned and kept, but these were my formative years in metal, so you’d expect that the albums I bought back then, and grew up with; that shaped my musical and metal journey; the experimental route into European underground metal in the mid-90’s via At The Gates and Entombed into Amorphis, Sentenced, Samael, In Flames (when they were good); the albums that framed my Terrorizer tenure; all are reasons behind this. As is quality levels – the 90’s was a great time for underground metal and produced a higher level of great albums per year than post-1998 has, but that’s a different argument for a different time. As a starter for six on this, maybe you should read this from Adrien Begrand.

Not only are there literally thousands of albums available each year, little effort is required to get hold of them and the jist of the article is that rather than trying to listen to as much of it as possible (as I try to do), and in doing so giving many albums a cursory listen only, we should be more selective in our choices and indulge a select few in more depth.

The brilliant ‘Surgical Steel’ by Carcass shows the benefits of this. For me, and many others I know, when it first came out the general response was “Yeah, it’s good. I like it”. As the months have gone by and the number of listens has increased, as the songs have been osmosed, familiarity has grown this has changed to “This is a fucking great heavy metal record. Five fists”.

But because there’s so much new stuff to listen to, sometimes you find yourself listening to something for the sake of listening to it, just so you can tick it off, so you decide (even if in the wrong state of mind) if it’s worth finding the time to give it a more in-depth listen – but that again depends on life and whether other things get in the way. That isn’t how I used to do it.

I genuinely think it takes a minimum of 5 listens to really begin to “get” an album. The first listen is purely about re-setting preconceptions and expectations, the second is when you get a feel of whether you like it or not, the third is when the songs start separating out, and it’s only from then onwards that an album really takes shape, but you take something like AEvangelist ‘Omen Ex Simulacra’, or Grave Upheaval (Untitled), you need to double or even treble that due to the complexity of the music, to pick up the nuances, to immerse in the atmospheres, to breathe in the albums’ depth – a cursory listen via your phone on the park and ride isn’t going to do that, but short of doing this full-time, it’s an impossible task.

But it’s not necessarily a fruitless one…

You see, without FOMO (and internet access) I may have missed out on Portal’s excellent ‘Vexovoid’, Cult of Luna’s ‘Vertikal’ and Ulcerate’s ‘Vermis’ (albums starting with letters other than v are also available), all new bands to me this year, of which these are truly excellent albums and feature in my Top 10 for the year. I wouldn’t have previously checked out Fleshgod Apocalypse on ‘Agony’ and therefore wouldn’t have been interested in the pounding follow-up ‘Labyrinth’, or stumbled across The Monolith Deathcult’s ‘Tetragrammaton’.

Or most of these albums below, many from bands I’d not heard of this time 12 months ago.

So, where do you sit? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, either in the comments below, or on Twitter. Do the benefits of sheep-dipping and increasing the likelihood of uncovering something new you love outweigh the emotional investment you get from focusing on a core selection? But what if that core selection aren’t the ones that work best for you? What if I miss something that I’d love? The albums I’ve invested most in, in terms of time and emotion, are my favourites of this year. Or have I invested most in them because they are my favourites of the year…?

So, I will continue to cast the net. There’s so much good and great stuff out there, and for those who like to look around the nether-regions for unheralded gems (so to speak), I will (and do) present my “Not Quite The Albums of the 2013” list – those that sit outside my Top 25. These are albums I recommend checking out, and that if you can find it in your hearts (and busy lives) to give 5 or 6 + listens too may well find a long shelf life in your collections.

I hope there’s something here to pique your interest:

50. OBLITERATION ‘Black Death Horizon’ (Relapse) Deranged Autopsy-isms from Norway. Check: Goat Skull Crown

49. FEN ‘Dustwalker’ (Code666) Melancholy UK post-black metal with shoegaze overtones. Check: Consequence

48. ABYSSAL ‘Novit Enim Dominus Qui Sunt Eius’ (Profound Lore) Twisted, atmospheric, murky death metal. Check: As Paupers Safeguard Magnates

47. DARKTHRONE ‘The Underground Resistance’ (Peaceville) Enjoyable Bathory worship with studded wristbands homaging trad and crust from true underground legends. Check: Valkyrie

46. PESTILENCE ‘Obsideo’ (Candlelight) Strong tech-thrash-death metal, best of their comeback albums. Check: Superconscious

45. AUTOPSY ‘Headless Ritual’ (Peaceville) You know what you’re getting from this legendary doomy-Death troupe, and they deal it in graveyard peat encrusted spades. Check: Arch-Cadaver

44. ANTEDILUVIAN ‘Logos’ (Nuclear War Now) Raw, subterranean mind-melt of sludgy, warped death metal, similar vein to Portal but even less structured or polished. Check: Through The Cervix of Hawaah

43. SUFFOCATION ‘Pinnacle of Bedlam’ (Nuclear Blast) Ripped faces off with this visceral return to form that showcased the best of brutal death metal. Check: As Grace Descends

42. GRAVE MIASMA ‘Odori Sepulcrorum’ (Sepulchral Voice) Smatterings of old-school Peaceville ipervade this interesting melancholic death metal release. Check: Ascension Eye

41. BLOODY HAMMERS ‘Spiritual Relics’ (Soulsellar) Hammer-Horror meets COC and Type O Negative resulting in a fuzzy, occult tinged happy-doomathon. Check: At The Well Of Nazareth

40. CLUTCH ‘Earth Rocker’ (Weathermaker) For me, overrated by many publications and topping several charts, but then I’m not really a Clutch fan. Still worth a listen with several strong, quirky rock anthems. Check: Crucial Velocity

39. DREAM THEATER ‘Dream Theater’ (Roadrunner) If you’re not a fan, a good introduction to the band. If you are, a strong addition to their catalogue. No surprises, just very well played epic-prog-metal. Check: The Looking Glass

38. AMORPHIS ‘Circle’ (Nuclear Blast) The weakest of the Tomi Joutsen albums, ‘Circle’ is still a strong melodic song-based metal album that puts most of the competition to shame. Check: Narrow Path

37. UNKIND ‘Pelon Juuret’ (Relapse) Crusty. Entombedy. Trap Themy. Violenty. Broody. Check: Olemisen Pelko

36. EARLS OF MARS ‘Earls of Mars’ (Candlelight) Off-the-wall steampunk tales set to vaudevillian doom rock and metal. Check: The Last Glass Eye-Maker

35. VULTURE INDUSTRIES ‘The Tower’ (Seasons of Mist) Like Arcturus’ younger cousins, theatrical Bergen troupe who refuse to sit squarely in the box. Check: The Tower

34. MOTORHEAD ‘Aftershock’ (UDR) A good Motorhead album. Does what it says on the tin. Check: Going To Mexico.

33. VOLBEAT ‘Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies’ (Vertigo) Peaks and troughs, but when these Danish rockers hit, such as with ‘Lady Pearl’ or ‘Lola Montez’, these distinctive rock anthems really deliver. Check: Lola Montez

32. PALMS ‘Palms’ (Ipecac) Chino Moreno provides Isis with great vocals, intent on producing dreamy and swirling atmospheres. Check: Future Warrior

31. KVELERTAK ‘Meir’ (Roadrunner) More expansive than the first, developing longer, more involved songs, while still working in the rock n’roll played by At The Gates ballpark. Check: Braune Brenn

30. BLACK CROWN INITIATE ‘Song of the Crippled Bull EP’ (Bandcamp) Post-metal, metalcore, djent, technical death-metal, seamless transitions and schizophrenic as all hell. Check: Song of the Cripped Bull

29. LIGHT BEARER ‘Silver Tongue’ (Halo of Flies) Dark, angry, brooding, patient post-metal. Check: Amalgam

28. PHILLIP H. ANSELMO & THE ILLEGALS ‘Walk Through Exits Only’ (Housecore) Complex, heavy, spazzy, considered, intelligent groove metal from one of the best metal voices of his generation. Check: Battallion of Zero. 

27. FLESHGOD APOCALYPSE ‘Labyrinth’ (Nuclear Blast) Taking the themes and styles of ‘Agony’ to their (il)logical extremes, in all directions. More brutal. More symphonic. More battery. More ear-assault. Check: Kingborn

26. BEASTMILK ‘Climax’ (Svart) The ‘hippest’ ‘buzziest’ band on the list. Chucking around Joy Division, The Mission, Killing Joke, hints of Nephilim and, apparently, The Editors (according to others; personally I’ve never heard The Editors), and with some decent  songs, too. Check: Death Reflects Us

(25 – 1 to follow in the next couple of days).

Thoughts, comments, tweets, replies all welcome

Steve Tovey

Image 1: http://www.smacdesign.com (via Google Images)

  1. Dean Vincent says:

    I agree with your point about taking time to bond with a record Steev. Rarely do I hear anything nowadays that makes me stop what I am doing and just stare in awe at the speakers, The real gems of course are the ones that invoke this response on repeated listens as you discover something each time that you somehow missed on previous listens.

    It has been a good year, esp for DM. The only downside I see is 2014 failing to live up to it by any decent stretch but at least I’ll have a pondfull of records from this year to console me if that becomes the case.

    • steevXIII says:

      Fair, Deano. Portal did that for me on first listen. It was a proper “What the ACTUAL f…” moment. I reckon with repeated listens AEvangelist and Grave Upheaval would have featured in my list, and fairly highly too, just not had the time to give them to get them properly yet. Same with Abyssal and Obliteration, though they made enough of an impact for me to want to list them. Aye, there’s so much from 2013 that if 2014 starts slowly that’s fine by me as still getting under the skin of things. I’m not normally a big fan of Death Metal, but this year it’s just stolen the whole fucking show.

  2. […] ‘Enough Is Enough Is Enough Is Enough…’ or ‘Not Quite The Albums of 201… […]

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