Zach Duvall’s Top 10 Of 2013 – Enjoying Joyful Noise

Personally and professionally, 2013 was an odd, sometimes turbulent year for me. So, The Great Support Structure that is music was really needed and my listening habits reflected that. While I am always in search of quality and adventure, I found myself drawn more and more to music that either stoked my imagination or appealed to my sense of joy. By “joy” I don’t necessarily mean that everything has to be a barrel full of monkeys, but something that pinged on an emotional level and eventually became more than just the notes that encountered my auditory nerves.

The result is a year in which I looked to a ton of music that wasn’t necessarily as experimental, dark, or caustic as that which others ate up. Not saying I didn’t dig some of that (my 11-20 includes Mammoth Grinder and Progenie Terrestre Pura, for example), but this was a year in which I treated music as a comfort and often as escapism. The list below certainly reflects that, with a good portion going to albums in a rockier vein (even the black metal). Of course, there’s a really good chance that I’m just getting older. Take your pick. Either way, this year was so loaded with quality that it’s bonkers.

Final thoughts before the list: Cassettes are still stupid, I messed up by not getting to Caladan Brood earlier than I did, and yes, clichéd as it sounds, metal is as strong as ever. Feed them ears.

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10. CIVIL WAR – THE KILLER ANGELS

Let’s face it, on paper this isn’t exactly in my target zone. Trad metal about the American Civil War has a very small chance of not being an embarrassing pile of schlock delivered by revisionist historians. But Civil War is based in Sweden and Civil War has Nils Patrik Johansson on vocals. Combine those unstoppable pipes with a truckload of unforgettable hooks, irresistible choruses, and an overwhelming sense of triumph, and you have one of the catchiest sets of power/trad tunes in recent memory. I never even got the review hangover from this one, having consistently spun it throughout the year whenever I needed a sense of victory. The only downside is that – ironically – The Killer Angels has yet to see a proper release on American soil. What gives?

• • • • •

 

9. INQUISITION – OBSCURE VERSES FOR THE MULTIVERSE

It’s the holidays, and Dagon is the Santa Claus of riffery:

Deck the Hells with Inquisition
Riffs-riffs-riffs-riffs-riffs, riff-riff-riff-riffs
Give us that guitar invention
Riffs-riffs-riffs-riffs-riffs, riff-riff-riff-riffs

Don we now our spikes and corpsepaint
Riffs-riffs-riffs, riffs-riffs-riffs, riffs, riffs, riffs
Give grandma a black metal faint
Riffs-riffs-riffs-riffs-riffs, riff-riff-riff-riffs

Hear the frogging vocals croaking
Riffs-riffs-riffs-riffs-riffs, riff-riff-riff-riffs
Dagon in the cosmos soaking
Riffs-riffs-riffs-riffs-riffs, riff-riff-riff-riffs

A blast, a bend, a warble, flutter
Riffs-riffs-riffs, riffs-riffs-riffs, riffs, riffs, riffs
Obscure Verses melts like butter…
Riffs-riffs-riffs-riffs-riffs, riff-riff-riff-riffs

• • • • •

 

8. SATAN – LIFE SENTENCE

Funny thing is, I had only occasionally listened to Satan’s major NWOBHM classic – 1983’s Court in the Act – before giving Life Sentence a full chance. But this one hit like a ton of bricks; a ton of supremely stylistic, infinitely-listenable, ultimately-air-guitar-able bricks. Albums of this ilk typically draw in listeners immediately, but worm their way to addiction over time. Life Sentence did just that, with each listen making a new song seem like the highlight. First it was “Personal Demons,” then “Siege Mentality,” then “Tears of Blood.” Eventually, it all sunk in deep and added up to an album that always gets top consideration for commutes and car trips.

• • • • •

 

7. VOIVOD – TARGET EARTH

I went into Target Earth with cautious optimism. Very cautious. While I was curious to see what the return of Blacky and addition of Martyr and one-time Gorguts guitarist Daniel “Chewy” Mongrain would add to Voivod, I was nervous to hear this band without any trace of Piggy’s music. My fears were for naught, because, even though Piggy plays no notes on this album, his presence is everywhere. Mongrain fits in perfectly, playing like a guy who grew up on classic Voivod and has dreamed of the gig for decades. The rest of the band is suitably Voivodian, crafting a catchy, weird, forward-moving combination of everything from Killing Technology to The Outer Limits. Calling it the best Voivod album since “X” or “X” simply doesn’t do it justice. It’s far more accurate just to say that this fits right in with the band’s classic era.

• • • • •

 

6. TRIBULATION – THE FORMULAS OF DEATH

Of the few albums here that might fit into a more “experimental” corner, The Formulas of Death is the only one by a band that I had not heard previously. (So no, I didn’t have a chance to be upset over Tribulation “de-br00talizing” their sound.) Despite any learning curve – or album length – I was drawn in instantly. Progressive in a sense, expansive to the nth degree, and focused on building towards the BIG MOMENT, Tribulation had crafted one of the most truly dynamic death(ish) metal albums by a band not named The Chasm. Throughout the year, the word that most came to mind about The Formulas of Death was “journey,” and from the first note to minute 75 of this monster, that’s exactly what the listener experiences.

• • • • •

 

5. CODE – AUGUR NOX

Despite viewing Resplendent Grotesque as a pretty damn near flawless heavy metal album, I had neither purchased Code’s debut Nouveau Gloaming nor mustered much anticipation for album number three. That all changed this year. Bought the debut (brilliant) and had all Kvohstless-Code fears washed away by Augur Nox. Code has never exactly been a real black metal band, but they’ve always had that mysterious darkness about them, both during the onslaught and the more somber passages. With Augur Nox and new vocalist Wacian, they take this vibe to possibly its greatest height yet, all while delivering an album right at the crossroads of earworminess and unfuckwithability. Seriously, remove the chorus of “Garden Chancery” from your skull, I dare thee.

• • • • •

 

4. CLUTCH – EARTH ROCKER

It’s pretty well documented that Clutch is one of my favorite all-time bands, so when they deliver their best album in a decade, you bet your nuts that it’s going to see a lot of rotation. But, Earth Rocker is more than just their best since Blast Tyrant, it is the sound of a band that has fought a battle against age and won by knockout. Perhaps in partial thanks to producer Machine, Clutch sounds as alive here as ever, combining a loaded and varying set of tracks with the most concert-accurate production job they have ever received. When an album is this good, both the fans and band celebrate it, as both have done all year with setlists absolutely overflowing with new material.

• • • • •

 

3. ORANSSI PAZUZU – VALONIELU

After a couple good-to-great albums put these Finns on the map, Valonielu delivered the type of mastery that was always just under the surface. This was an arrival, a full realization of potential, and yet still just a teaser for the future. Black metal, industrial, krautrock, prog, etc. etc. etc. Oranssi Pazuzu melds it all in weird and wondrous ways and made an album in which no two tracks have the same feel. (There is no convenient “sample” track here, folks.) Where Valonielu really elevates the band is through the dramatic arc, starting with the relatively simplistic and ending with a climax of such grandiose proportions that words cannot do it justice.

• • • • •

 

2. GORGUTS – COLORED SANDS

There were several great “returns” in 2013, but none quite delivered like that of Gorguts. The reason is that Colored Sands doesn’t feel like a return. There is no nostalgia (or “Nostalgia”) here, and not one ounce of harkening to the past. There is only Gorguts 2013: Luc Lemay and his brilliant, twisted cohorts doing their beastly best to be the best at being beastly. And they win. Hugely. Colored Sands is packed to the gills with surprises and moments of utter mindfuckery, twisting jazz fusion into some demonic, mechanical monstrosity whilst packing on the brutal. This is another case of “must be heard,” as the level of detail here would take pages upon pages to describe and each deserves their own feast. Oh, and Colin Marston’s bass tone? Yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeesh…

• • • • •

 

1. ATLANTEAN KODEX – THE WHITE GODDESS

The White Goddess did not amaze me by its virtuosity in the way Colored Sands did; it did not rejuvenate faith in an old favorite like Earth Rocker did; and it certainly did not bring quite that same sense of initial discovery as Formulas of Death. What The White Goddess did was give me that heavy metal album that most entranced me in 2013. Those reasons I stated in my intro? This album. No band in 2013 quite appealed to my sense of wonder and magic as did Atlantean Kodex with The White Goddess. The melodies, the atmosphere, that majestic air, the simultaneous modernizing and old-schooling of Bathory, those vocals; every element added up to nothing less than pure joy for me. I have found it utterly impossible to be in a bad mood while listening to this album, and I can’t imagine my recent musical history without it.

Posted by Zach Duvall

Last Rites Co-Owner; Senior Editor; Obnoxious overuser of baseball metaphors.

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