TOP 5 Albums of 2013

AGATHODAIMON - In Darkness (2013)

I don’t think it’s unfair to say that the world of heavy metal is suffering from an identity crisis. Popular styles of loud rock like deathcore and djent have splintered the community; capturing the hearts and minds of the youth while being almost universally despised by older fans. The “true metal vs. false metal” debate has seldom raged as vigorously as it does now. Thus, when I was thinking about my favorite releases from this year it was concepts like personality and sense of self that were at the front…

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VOIVOD – Target Earth

VOIVOD - Target Earth (2013)

The innovative Canadian quartet known as Voivod faced almost insurmountable odds going into the creation of their newest release, “Target Earth”. To begin with, the band had expended the last of founding guitarist Denis D’Amour’s leftover recordings during the creation of their 2009 release “Infini”. These demos, recorded by Denis prior to his departure from this world in 2005, were, admittedly, not really indicative of the “classic” Voivod sound, but to many people he was the man most responsible for that sound and a Voivod without him was inconceivable. Additionally,…

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ALMAH – Unfold

ALMAH - Unfold (2013)

Almah’s “Unfold” is a conflicted album. It’s the fourth full-length release by the band, which is notable for being fronted by Angra vocalist Edu Falaschi. As it turns out, his bizarre criteria for band names is the least of his worries. Opening bruiser “In My Sleep” is a flurry of aggressive riffing and syncopated drum rhythms that demands your attention, but this combination is quickly discarded. Most of the rest of the album is decidedly slower and more simplistic and often bears little resemblance to what I would classify as…

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WOLFHEART – Winterborn

WOLFHEART - Winterborn (2013)

So, Tuomas Saukkonon of Before the Dawn, Black Sun Aeon, and a multitude of other bands has gone solo. Having disbanded all of his collaborative projects, he’s now completely free to do whatever he wants musically, without compromise. What path will he forge on his solo debut “Winterborn”? As it turns out, a path very similar to the one he’s been traveling for years. This album picks up right where his previous projects left off, which might be a relief for fans but didn’t do much for me. I’m admittedly…

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TARJA – Colours in the Dark

TARJA - Colours in the Dark (2013)

This has been a good year for Nightwish fans, with celebrated After Forever vocalist Floor Jansen joining the band as full-time singer and original vocalist Tarja Turunen releasing her fourth full-length solo album, entitled “Colours in the Dark.” On this album, Tarja further explores the possibilities of fusing western classical music with heavy metal and other rock styles. The album opens subtly with a lone snare drum playing a pattern that, especially when paired with the strings that soon join it, is reminiscent of Maurice Ravel’s “Boléro.” It’s a serious…

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REVAMP – Wild Card

REVAMP - Wild Card (2013)

ReVamps’s sophomore release, “Wild Card”, is a testament to the make-or-break quality of a vocalist. A powerful singer can take average music and make it exceptional and a poor singer, or even just the wrong singer, can ruin a good song. The latter situation is what probably sticks out most of people, but you simply cannot overstate the importance of the former. The band’s first album was more or less standard symphonic metal, but “Wild Card” moves in a different direction and aligns itself much more closely with what the…

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THRUDVANGAR – Tiwaz

THRUDVANGAR - Tiwaz (2013)

Germany’s Thrudvangar gets their name from a compilation of Norse mythology called “Prose Edda” that was put together by Icelandic poet Snorri Sturluson in the 13th century. The word translates as “fields of strength” and refers to the homeland of the god Thor. The band certainly does their best to create a powerful, warlike sound on their fifth album, “Tiwaz.” For instance, the desolate acoustic guitars that open the first track seem to anticipate some great battle and when the heavy guitars finally kick in I can’t help but imagine…

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SKILTRON – Into the Battleground

SKILTRON - Into the Battleground (2013)

If you asked me what the weirdest country that a Celtic Metal band could hail from was, Argentina would be close to the top of my list (simply because of the sheer distance between that country and the music’s region of origin). Actually, anywhere other than the British Isles is weird because of the prerequisite cultural experiences one would ostensibly need in order to make this music. I mean, can you even really call Skiltron a *true* Celtic Metal band? How do a group of Argentines come to create this…

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OBSIDIAN TONGUE – A Nest of Ravens in the Throat of Time

Obsidian Tongue - A Nest of Ravens in the Throat of Time (2013)

I really wanted to love this album. Certainly, as the first few moments of “Brothers in the Stars” washed over me (after the drums kicked in – I’m not talking about the introduction) I was in good standing to do so. The song is quite beautiful, featuring dreamy guitars, pulsing drums, and savage vocals that float out of the mix like some beast howling in a forest at night. These hallmarks of atmospheric black metal are familiar and comforting and are handled marvelously on this album. Then here are also…

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MASTERPLAN – Novum Initium

MASTERPLAN - Novum Initium (2013)

Masterplan’s “Novum Initium” is, as the pigeon-Latin would suggest, a new beginning for the power metal band. This album features an almost entirely new lineup save for guitarist Roland Grapow and keyboardist Axel Mackenrott, who apparently have been doing most of the songwriting as the music on this album differs little from that of the previous four. On this new release, the Germans stick to the most basic distillation of the recipe that has kept them alive for over a decade. The riffs and grooves are simple, the production is…

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HIBRIA – Silent Revenge

HIBRIA - Silent Revenge (2013)

Hibria are not your father’s power metal band. While so many of that style’s contemporary performers stick stubbornly to the European school of frilly shirts and multi-tracked keyboards, Hibria reach back to the genre’s origins to formulate a much more raw, stripped-down sound that more closely resembles thrash metal and its derivatives. The muscular grooves in songs like the album’s titular opening track, “Silent Revenge”, remind me much more of a band like Megadeth than they do a band like Rhapsody and the sinister riffing could be straight out of…

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MÅNEGARM – Legions of the North

Manegarm - Legions of the North

The fusion of black metal and folk metal has always struck me as a little odd since the two styles of music seem at odds with each other with regards to attitude. Black metal was born from the misanthropic fringes of society while folk music tends to celebrate cultural unity. Clearly there’s something to it, though, because there are many bands that have dabbled in this fusion of disparate styles — which, in certain incarnations is known as Viking Metal — including Bathory, Windir, Finntroll, Moonsorrow, and Sweden’s Månegarm, who…

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AGATHODAIMON – In Darkness

AGATHODAIMON - In Darkness (2013)

Agathodaimon’s sixth full-length release, “In Darkness” is one of those albums that makes me really happy I have this job. I probably would not have happened upon its delicious mixture of melody, melancholy, and aggression otherwise. Despite hailing from Germany, the band reminds me much more of moody bands like Woods of Ypres and Enslaved than of the gritty thrash of Sodom or the grandiloquent pomp of Blind Guardian. “Somewhere, Somewhen” reminds me of Summoning and there are hints of Type O Negative as well. Indeed, despite initially presenting itself…

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KALMAH – Seventh Swamphony

KALMAH - Seventh Swamphony (2013)

Contrary to what the stark, black-and-white cover art suggests, Kalmah’s “Seventh Swamphony” is a flashy and fun combination of melodic and “extreme” Metal styles. I suppose that this is technically Melodic Death Metal – and indeed it was introduced to me as such – but in many ways it reminds me much more of Power, Symphonic, and even Neoclassical Metal, particularly with regards to the gaudy lead guitars and keyboards that are the driving force behind this music. In fact, the only aspect of this album that is particularly evocative…

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