And yet another year had blazed by in the blink of an eye. It seems we just unleashed our Best of List for 2012 yet here we are again closing in on another huge year for hard rock and metal. So it’s time to look back at the Best Hard Rock and Metal Albums of 2013. The ever interesting thing about music is how it can grow on you or grow apart from you: Albums originally thought to be genius lose luster over time, and some that were overlooked initially begin to take on a life of their own. In scouring our album reviews for 2013 we noticed several that received high marks when reviewed which did not even make this list, and others which, if re-reviewed today would receive much better marks.
Perception and perspective…
As with all lists, no one will agree with many of the choices that follow. Some excluded bands will be hailed as brilliant, and unforgivable lapses on our part, while some inclusive of this list will be picked apart, and our journalistic credentials vilified. Remember, in the end, this is all opinion, and undoubtedly with the morass of albums released in 2013 we undoubtedly overlooked a handful that might have made the list had we heard them.
As always, there are no EPs (which left out Nails and Noisem), greatest hits, covers, or live albums on this list. These are full length studio efforts only. The list was compiled with feedback from the various staff, and ultimately the question to be asked at the end of the day was/is which albums did you return to the most this year? These are our Top 25. See Part 2 for 26-50:
25. BATTLECROSS – WAR OF WILL (METAL BLADE)
This marks the Battlecross’s sophomore effort, and the growth is noticeable from the band’s stellar debut, “Pursuit of Honor“. The album was produced by Mark Lewis (Trivium, DevilDriver, Chimaira) and Jason Suecof (Whitechapel, Motionless in White, Job For a Cowboy). The latter also laid down a guest solo. Joey Vera (Armored Saint, Fate’s Warning) mastered the album. With “War of Will” the guys have forged a brutal effort. Kyle Gunther‘s beastly vocals lead the charge, and the guitar duo of Tony Asta and Hiran Deraniyagala shine like the diamond tip blade of a buzzsaw. Don Slater‘s low end rumble fits perfectly into the mix and plays a perfect rhythmic counterpoint to guest drummer Shannon Lucas‘ (The Black Dahlia Murder, All That Remains) stick and pedal work.
24. PRETTY MAIDS – MOTHERLAND (FRONTIERS)
Denmark’s Pretty Maids have been making great hard rock and metal for more than three decades. In 2013 they returned and delivered with “Motherland” one of the year’s most impressive, powerful and melodic metal albums. They have managed to pull together the best elements of hard rock, symphonic and power metal, and blend it into a real rock and roll statement that reminds us that true heavy music can still be accessible and memorable. “Motherland” is an absorbing and dramatic heavy metal album on many levels: Excellent performances, insightful lyrics, and well-crafted and melodic songs all put together in one dynamic 13-track record.
23. THE DILLINGER ESCAPE PLAN – ONE OF US IS THE KILLER (SUMERIAN/PARTY SMASHER)
The premier math-metal miscreants return with another grey-matter shuddering offering. Vocalist Greg Puciato’s cacophonous wails stab at the membranous tissues of your ears until your soul bleeds. The album radiates sonic dissonance, and guitarist Ben Weinman heaves about his jangly and raucous discord like a man possessed. DEP does not go for breaking new ground with this record but instead builds upon the foundation it has mastered over its previous four records. “One of Us is the Killer” is pure, raw eclecticism. This album will pierce your id and crush your cranium.
22. ORPHANED LAND – ALL IS ONE (CENTURY MEDIA)
In an age where metal music has become so pathetically disposable in the mind of an average listener and attention spans have waned to the point of oblivion en masse, Orphaned Land’s latest album, “All Is One“ serves as 2013?s ideal musical litmus test for the initiated and uninitiated alike. The people who get the simplicity and the breathtaking beauty present in this record will be in for a treat beyond treats, and the rest will simply shake their heads in bemusement. - Owais ‘Vitek’ Nabi
21. WARBEAST – DESTROY (HOUSECORE)
The Texas thrash titans return with a blistering scorcher of an album after a nice split, “War of the Gargantuas” earlier this year. Bruce Corbitt and company have bloodied our collective ears with this menacing slab of retro-thrash nirvana, making a “Destroy” a poetic title. As one fan put it: “This album will te raar off your face then use it for a floor mat!” I concur. The band’s 2010 debut, “Krush the Enemy” was powerful, but “Destroy” is much heavier, more technical, and far more brutal. Housecore Records founder and former Pantera frontman, Phil Anselmo produced the album if that gives you any indication of how raw and neck-wringing this album is. Every instrument is allowed to shine: The drums and bass are teeth-rattling and the guitars crush. Corbitt’s vocals are corrosive and ferocious. Plenty of speed and groove to go around. A+
20. CHTHONIC – BÚ-TIK (SPINEFARM/UNIVERSAL)
Bú-Tik proves to be consistent throughout, which some albums tend to fail at. This record isn’t the most technical, nor is it something totally out of the ordinary or new, but the presentation and approach really grabs you. There are the usual heavy moments and catchy guitar works, but I think the overall message these guys are going for help them stand out ever so slightly among the mainstream crowd. Bú-Tik is another strong addition to the band’s already impressive discography and they should be proud of that. - Jeffrey Allee
19. FLESHGOD APOCALYPSE – LABYRINTH (CENTURY MEDIA)
Fleshgod Apocalypse; you have the core which is pure technical death metal, next you have the charge and body consisting of the guitars and orchestration and finally you have the propellant consisting of Francesco Paoli’s commanding double bass powering the whole setup right into your room. The result is a an album that will rip your face off. “Labyrinth” has gone straight to number one on my top ten albums of the year list. Fleshgod Apocalypse have really pushed their boundaries with this album. They seem to have perfected their sound and have achieved their vision. On the way they may have alienated a few fans but they have gifted the metal community one of the finest albums of this year. - Owais ‘Vitek’ Nabi
18. ATLANTEAN KODEX - THE WHITE GODDESS (20 BUCK SPIN)
In talking about music and metal in particular, the word “epic” is tossed about freely. With “White Goddess”, German metallers, Atlantean Kodex have redefined the word. Big, bold, brash and beautiful, this album is a genuine gift to metal fans. Picking up where the band’s 2010 debut, “Golden Bough” left off, this concept piece carries the torch forward. Massive melodies are the back drop for meaty performances of grandiose design. Throughout the near one hour assault one can hear nuances of Bathory, Fates Warning, Manowar and While Heaven Wept. “White Goddess” is simply put, a majestic cacophony, finely produced and gracefully performed.
17. A SOUND OF THUNDER – TIME’S ARROW (MAD NEPTUNE RECORDS)
Time's Arrow“Time’s Arrow” is easily A Sound of Thunder‘s best and most inspired album to date. They continue to set their own bar higher, and so far they’ve made the growth from one level to the next a seamless journey. A Sound of Thunder has been one of those under-the-radar gems that only the fortunate few have discovered. “Time’s Arrow” is the perfect time for the uninitiated to jump on the bandwagon as it is a shining example of what metal should aspire to in this era of often uninspired sonic drivel. As powerful and impressive as it is on first listen, this album bears repeated listening to truly grasp the grandeur and depth of the record.
16. CHILDREN OF BODOM – HALO OF BLOOD (NUCLEAR BLAST)
Children-of-Bodom-Halo-of-BloodA unique thing about Children of Bodom is that they are never repetitive; each song is crafted ingeniously with powerful melodies, heavy riffs and inspired guitar and keyboard solos and has the power to captivate you with its uniqueness. Their albums are never monotonous and each album, heck each song, offers us something totally new. And such is the case with “Halo of Blood“. The people searching for their old sound will be quite satisfied, while for others it will possibly be on the list if top three Bodom albums. At the end I would just like to say: Listen to it, you’ll be damned! - Varun Khatri
15. THE OCEAN – PELAGIAL (METAL BLADE)
TheOcean-Pelagial“Pelagial” is a journey. Two journeys, though thematically different, yet both very emotional and psychological in nature. To be able to pull off a feat such as this album is remarkable. To call “Pelagial” perfect would be an overstatement but there really is no other way to describe how flawless this album is. From the expansive concept and theme of the album, to the amazing orchestrations, melodies and riffs, it encompasses the entire spectrum of the progressive metal genre. - Owais ‘Vitek’ Nabi
14. DREAM THEATER – DREAM THEATER (ROADRUNNER)
Dream-Theater-Dream-TheaterIt is evident that progressive metal might be only strengthening in the last few years, but it’s the older bands like Dream Theater, that are still forging the ways for what the genre is and will be. Over 20 years into their existence, Dream Theater still shows no obvious signs of aging or slowing down, which is basically a testament to the band´s authenticity and drive. With “Dream Theater“, their 12th platter, the band once again proves that they’re seasoned elder statesmen of progressive metal with no sushi in sight. This is yet another slab of righteous, highly technical progressive music with tons of hooks and it demands the horns be raised high in homage. - Owais ‘Vitek’ Nabi
13. KYLESA – ULTRAVIOLET (SEASON OF MIST)
Like every other Kylesa full length, “Ultraviolet“‘s greatness lies in interplay, whether it be that between punk, indie, and metal; between the gruff and noodly Laura Pleasants and the simple-yet-effective co-guitarist/vocalist Phillip Cope; the gradually widening percussive canyon between Carl McGinley and Tyler Newberry that only adds to the dynamic; or even that between being esoteric and acceptable. Thirteen years into an unbroken wave of revitalized and omnivorous metal bands, it feels almost ridiculous to have to keep saying this, but: If you’re not paying at least some attention to this stuff, you’re screwing up. - Achintya Venkatesh and Owais Vitek Nabi
12. SUBROSA - MORE CONSTANT THAN THE GODS (PROFOUND LORE)
Elegance in doom is hard to come by and Salt Lake City’s SubRosa does a hell of a job showcasing it. The quintet introduces elements and instruments you would not normally hear in this genre, including elements of folk. The female vocals are beautiful and easily mold within the instrumentals, which include electric violins that are used surprisingly well. If you’re looking for that obscure band that does not fit into the usual specifications of the genre, SubRosa can do that for you. Morose yet radiant, “More Constant Than the Gods” is a tempest of broody grandeur that breathes plaintive whispers of sorrow into a spiraling tempest of fuzzed-out, weeping doom. - Jeffrey Allee
11. PROTEST THE HERO – VOLITION (RAZOR & TIE)
“Volition“ marks a turning point in the band’s career for many reasons. Some would say this is the best music they have made to date while others would say that it is because of the statement they have made with the label vs. independent argument that has been a hot debate for a few years now. I can say that I agree with both statements above. “Volition“ could end up being a huge influence on what happens in the future with labels and the other related parties of the industry. Why? Well, probably because the album ended up surprising many people, including myself. “Volition“ has qualities that immediately speak out to the listener but also has hidden gems with every listen you give it. The catchy hooks and choruses, mixed with complex musicianship, should draw in a broad spectrum, even if this music is not their preferred style. - Jeffrey Allee
10. CLUTCH – EARTH ROCKER (WEATHERMAKER)
The 10th studio release from this Maryland based hard rock contingent is easily one of the quartet’s best affairs to date. Stepping away from the bluesier approach they have taken in recent years, the band amps up the energy level and gets back to a more straightforward rock and roll approach on “Earth Rocker”. The album is propelled forward by Tim Sult and Neil Fallon’s grand riffage, and the pace, while fluctuating, is constant and fiery. Clutch retain their passion and intensity and continue to evolve their sound while remaining true to the Clutch signature.
9. DEAFHEAVEN – SUNBATHER (DEATHWISH)
Intensity and nuance are at the core of Deafheaven’s sound, and the San Francisco based black metal meets shoegaze duo of George Clarke (vocals) and Kerry McCoy (guitars) have delivered a stunning sophomore effort with “Sunbather”. Building off the band’s 2010 debut, “Roads to Judah”, Deafheaven have crafted an album in immense in scope and stark, melancholic beauty. “Sunbather” is a transcendent album that journeys between darkness and light, hope and angst.
8. WITHERSCAPE - THE INHERITANCE (CENTURY MEDIA)
Dan Swanö is a man of legend in the metal world. He has established himself as a key influence in the underground metal scene. His newest project seeks to continue his success, and I have to tell you that it won’t be much of a problem doing so. Witherscape suddenly appears out of nowhere and may have very well released one of the best albums of 2013. The showcase of great songwriting (both lyrical and instrumental) displays some of the best characteristics you’ll find in the sub-genre. With every listen of “The Inheritence” you’ll find yourself becoming more immersed than before, and that is always a good thing. - Jeffrey Allee
7. AYREON - THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING (INSIDEOUT MUSIC)
“The Theory Of Everything” is way more than a concept album. Genius isn’t a word I throw around too often, but I can’t really think of a better way to put it. I’ve never heard a story told through such beautiful composition, while being so intelligent in both the psychological aspect and the mathematical/physical one. This album, as is life, is full of pain, anger, jealousy, love, triumph, and sadness. It’s the best movie I’ve never seen. It’s one of the best albums I have ever heard. The fact that Arjen Lucassen was able to take the story of a Savant and turn it in to such an intriguing and inspiring tale is something I will never be able to forget. It’s pompous, it’s cocky, but progressive music is indeed “intelligent music for intelligent people”. I am arguing that this may be the best example of that line that I have ever had the opportunity to hear. - Mattie Jensen
6. TESSERACT - ALTERED STATE (CENTURY MEDIA)
“Altered State” can be summed up in a few words: Beautiful. Majestic. Emotional. Although many folks wouldn’t consider it to be metal, I see it as the opposite side of the spectrum that metal has been placed, but still contained within it. This album is all about atmosphere, progression, and a different kind of heaviness you don’t find in many other albums. This album is composed of four sections, that traverse all these characteristics stated above, and more.
5. ALTER BRIDGE – FORTRESS (ROADRUNNER/EMI)
Alter Bridge took its sweet time between albums but no one can deny the wait was certainly worth it. “Fortress” is arguably the band’s most cohesive and fully realized effort to date. Myles Kennedy’s voice continues to be the band’s magic weapon, and his songwriting continues to expand having worked closely with Slash and others in recent years. Alter Bridge continues to build upon its already impressive foundation, and “Fortress” is packed with a wealth of heady sonic goodness. The opening track alone, “Cry of Achilles” tells the listener everything that needs to be known about the immensity of this record!
4. KVELERTAK – MEIR (ROADRUNNER)
“Meir” marks the band’s debut release for Roadrunner Records whom they just recently signed with. That may be the only real change for Kvelertak who keeps everything else pretty much in line with its 2010 debut eponymous album, including maintaining its vocals in Norwegian. The band continues its sonic marriage of traditional metal with hardcore punk rock’s bombast and melody and the relentless and aggressive attack and harsh vocals of black metal. Vocalist Erlend Hjelvik takes his cue from the latter rather than the former, offering up something of a nihilistic growl and bellow. In all, “Meir” is, in its purest sense, an unabashed celebration of rock and roll. A record packed with unhinged sonic festivity, hard-hitting riffage, and an unending supply of engaging melodies.
3. QUEENSRŸCHE – QUEENSRŸCHE (CENTURY MEDIA)
The last time Queensrÿche released a self-titled effort was 30 years ago, when they unleashed their dynamic four-song EP. From the opening riff of “Queen of the Reich” metal fans around the world were hooked, and their love for the band cemented. The current line-up is revitalized and more excited than they’ve been in years. That enthusiasm shines through on this record, which clearly marks a rebirth for Queensrÿche. That is why the band chose to self-title this effort. All that is old is new again. Wilton says the band is “firing on all cylinders;” a statement proven out over the 11 tracks represented on this record. As impressive as “Queensrÿche” was upon first listen, it was not until repeated listens later that I realized how substantial and monumental it truly is. There is real depth here, and the subtleties resonate more loudly with each listen. This is not merely an album that recalls the majesty of Queensrÿche’s seminal and iconic works, it stands head and shoulders with its legendary brethren: A top 5 effort. For some the frequency may be unknown, but this Queensrÿche is all dialed in: The real Rÿche hath returned.
2. GORGUTS – COLORED SANDS (SEASON OF MIST)
Gorguts - Colored SandsCanada technical death metal luminaries, Gorguts returned this year with founder Luc Lemay (vocals, guitar) as the only original member. That did not stop him from crafting one of the band’s most indelible records to date, and the first in a decade. “Colored Sands” is a deliciously deviant slab of surreal progressions. Aggressive devastation and aggression blend with spectacular technical dexterity and beauty. This is like no previous Gorguts album, yet it is clearly primal Gorguts brilliance. This is a statement album for Luc Lemay and the band; thick with groove and prog flourishes, yet equally dark and weighty. One of the year’s best, by far.
1. CARCASS - SURGICAL STEEL (NUCLEAR BLAST)
Who saw this extreme metal beast coming from Liverpool’s, Carcass? With “Surgical Steel”, the band has reclaimed the flag they planted so many years ago, bringing the band back to classic form while making a modern bombastic statement for a new generation. Founders Bill Steer (guitars) and Jeff Walker (vocals) have created their best work in the last 10-12 years. “Surgical Steel” marks a kick in the gonads to a mindless plethora of wannabe pretenders to the throne. Mixing classic NWOBHM with the best of modern extreme metal riffage and blast-beats, Carcass is back to hand out a blistering lesson in melodic brutality! Steer is the unmitigated cornerstone of this record; his stunning guitar work and guttural growls step on your throat and lay claim to your soul. He also lays down the bass in marrow-rumbling style. Walker is one of the few harsh vocalists who can lay forth his corrosive growls while still allowing fans to understand his words. He shines here, as does new drummer Dan Wilding who triturates his kit. Expect to find “Surgical Steel” on many a year-end list of best albums