Baldwin’s Top Choices of 2013 Part 1: The Metal Releases

 

Well, another year is behind us. It’s been another awesome year for music. The metal genre seemed particularly fruitful, with many bands releasing seminal albums. Therefore, I feel that a separate write-up was needed this year for metal. And I mean, this IS a heavy metal focused blog! Keep in mind, this is a personal list. I’m sure there are many awesome metal releases this year that aren’t included here and that I haven’t had the chance to hear. Leave some comments on what they might be and stay tuned for Part 2, where I list my favorite five non-metal albums!

GorgutsColored Sands

This is a very late entry, but one that shot straight to the top of the list. My god, what an intense experience. Everything about this release is UGLY, but in the most intelligent and carefully composed way. The title is befitting, because each musical moment on this monster morphs and slithers beneath and over you like churning waves of sand in a global desert storm. There’s an incredibly weighted, dragging kind of cacophony to each of these tracks – like the slow destruction of the Fremen caves on Arrakis (a reference for all you Dune fans). But the main reason why this shot up onto the list from just a couple listens is the fact that I’ve never heard something quite like this in metal. The music is dreadfully challenging, the atmosphere is epically dissonant, and the production crumbles with so many layers of extravagant decay.

Cult of LunaVertikal

If Colored Sands is the sound of a mighty temple slowly being pummeled to the ground, then Vertikal is the sound of a massive skyscraper being built. Cult of Luna fashioned this album out of inspiration from the sci-fi film classic, “Metropolis.”  And the atmosphere of that film clings to these post-rock epics like a robot host. An embracing of synthesizers as mood-enhancers bathes the sound here in a futuristic coldness. The echo and reverb of the guitars make the listener feel as if he’s standing in the center of a vast cityscape. The instrumental architecture here is loud and bombastic, building at a steady moderation, but with a commanding power. The softer sections are almost dreamy space-age ambiance, complimenting and mixing in with the abrasive moments to paint a glorious, complete picture of metropolitan dystopia.

DeafheavenSunbather

A happy black metal record? What the fuck? Yep, and Deafheaven pulled it off too. This is a metal album dedicated to the sometimes overbearing heat and light of summer. It’s a testament to the intensity of Vitamin D-induced euphoria. And those ecstatic and blissful moments can be just as loud and heavy as the blindingly angry ones. The textbook screams, tremolo picking and explicit power of black metal are oddly matched with major chord melody and the heavenly shoegazer fuzz of this album’s sound. There’s definitely a touch of indie rock sensibility to these songs, which might make this one of the most controversial metal releases of the year. But the accessibility and uniqueness of this album cannot be denied. Visually, I’d compare the aura of this album to standing in the middle of an enormous sunny field. It’s high noon and the sunlight of a crystal clear sky fills your closed eyes with bright red. The grassy knolls are ripe with green, the farmland billows with fresh crops and the glories of mid-summer shine with sacred, deafening chorus.

CarcassSurgical Steel

This was a no-brainer. If there’s one thing that metal fans agreed on this year, it’s the fact that Carcass made one of the most spectacular comebacks in metal band history. In fact, it’s such a convincing comeback, that it’s hard to believe they had retired in the first place. I’ve already shared my glowing praise for this album in the review I wrote for this lovely site, which can be viewed here. So, I’ll keep the description short. Basically, this is an encyclopedia of thrash metal riffs, and every one of them pummels and simultaneously engages the psyche. It’s not the most experimental release on this list, but that’s what makes the record so fucking strong. This album is a celebration of metal. It’s not meant to be analyzed, and there’s not a lot of work that goes into appreciating it. Just put it on and bang your head against your dresser like you did when you were an angry, misunderstood fifteen year old.

True WidowCircumambulation

I guess you can call this more of a stoner rock record. But fuck it, metal doesn’t always have to be an abrasive, deafening affair. What we have here is a hauntingly beautiful soundtrack to despair, an ode to depression that doesn’t rely on gothic cliché to express its misery. There’s desolation to the hollow guitar sound, an angelic distance to Nicole Estill’s voice, and a nagging creepiness to the vacant background hiss of this album that makes it seem like you’re reading the resulting suicide note of an unrequited love in a haunted colonial mansion. The cover art is what initially persuaded me to give this a listen, and its lonely portrait provides a potent accompaniment to this music. Listening to this is like gazing at an old painting from the Baroque period. The painting itself is beautiful and emotionally stirring. But the black background, pale faces and soft yellow glow of the scene hints at something much darker, and secretly sinister lurking in the shadows.

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