The Best Metal Albums of 2013: #50 – 41

001tag50. The Cult of Dom Keller,
The Cult of Dom Keller (Mannequin)

I first learned of this peculiar Nottingham band when they shared a split seven-inch single with Shooting Guns, and that track was enough to put them on my radar. And when they released their first proper full-length album, not only was I mighty interested, but I was pleasantly surprised by its eclectic combination of ominous heavy rock and fuzzed-out psychedelia.

001tag49. Untimely Demise, Systematic Eradication (Punishment 18)

Unlike Toxic Holocaust, Untimely Demise’s brand of thrash is devoutly Eurocentric, and unlike Warbringer (see below), they know what they’re doing on their new record. Slickly recorded and performed and with a strong sense of dynamics as well as intricacy, the Canadian band take a big step forward on the follow-up to 2010’s City of Steel, coming across as a neat balance between Arch Enemy and Kreator. Songs like “Spiritual Embezzlement” and “Somali Pirates” are absolute scorchers, while “The Last Guildsman” and “Revolutions” showcase lead shredder/vocalist Matt Cuthbertson’s greatly improving melodic sensibility. (Decibel, October 30)

001tag48. Domovoyd, Oh Sensibility (Svart)

Equal parts space rock, doom, and post rock, this Finnish band creates a distinct sound that’s as hazy as it is pulverizing, with guitar work that sounds like Kevin Shields putting his own twisted spin on Matt Pike’s riffs. “By Taking Breath” and “Effluvial Condenser” are stunners. Finnish underground metal seems to be exploding right now, and this is a real discovery by the folks at Svart Records. (Decibel, October 16)

001tag47. Cult of Fire,
मृत्यु का तापसी अनुध्यान

Yes, that’s Sanskrit, and no, I have no idea how it’s pronounced, nor what it means. If the guys in Cult of Fire do, then good for them. Musically this second album is an even balance of rote black metal orthodoxy and bold experimentation: melodic then atonal, structured then abstract, straightforward then mesmerizing. Another incredible discovery by German tastemaker Iron Bonehead. (Decibel, December 4)

001tag46. Paradox, Tales of the Weird (AFM)

True to their name, Paradox find a neat balance between the soaring, bombastic melodies of power metal and the aggression of thrash, and Tales of the Weird walks that line with supreme skill. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that guitarist Charly Steinhauer is also a very good singer, providing strong, authoritative lead vocals as well as excellent range. With Christian Münzner, who is best known for his work in Obscura, the band has a stellar guitar tandem, and those two ingredients mesh well on the title track, which kicks off the album in Iced Earth-like fashion. It’s a bold move to start off a thrash record with a nine-minute track, but the catchy “Tales of the Weird” holds up extremely well. After that, the band gets down to brass tacks with a scorching of six songs, ranging from the hyperspeed “Day of Judgment”, the darker-hued “Brutalized”, the brooding “Fragile Alliance”, and the all-out ferocity of “The Downward Spiral”. If that wasn’t enough, a brilliant cover of Rainbow’s classic “A Light ion the Black” is tacked on at the end, its speed and melody a perfect fit for this band, capping off an album that came from seemingly out of nowhere to slay yours truly. (MSN, January 15)

001tag45. Ihsahn, Das Seelenbrechen (Candlelight)

Like Eremita, Das Seelenbrechen is inspired by the writing of Friedrich Nietzsche – “breaking souls…is one of art’s mightiest effects” – but things get much more eclectic, very quickly. After a pair of songs that ease listeners into the record by staying within metal confines and not drifting too far away from the Eremita feel, the mood gradually shifts. The nimble yet restrained progressive rock of “NaCl” gives way to the gorgeously mellow electronic tones of album highlight “Pulse”, to the surreal, horn-punctuated funk of “Tacit”, to the harrowing krautrock experimentation of “See”. Unlike the manic playfulness of Devin Townsend, Ihsahn’s restraint throughout, especially on the stupendous second half, keeps this surprising and strangely satisfying record on an even keel. (Decibel magazine)

001tag44. Deep Purple, Now What?! (Eagle Rock)

What a pleasure it is to not only have Deep Purple still around performing, but making vital new music as well. Their first album since 2005’s Rapture of the Deep sees the legendary band continuing to age gracefully while still showing signs of ambition, as well as rocking mighty hard every once in a while. Guitarist Steve Morse continues to prove to be a valuable contributor, while Don Airey honors the late Jon Lord’s legacy with keyboard work that remains faithful to that core Deep Purple sound, but in the end it’s Ian Gillan’s charming persona that makes this record so winning, always showing a wry sense of humor while captivating listeners with his tasteful singing. In fact, “A Simple Song” is as good a song as they’ve written in the last 26 years, “All the Time in the World” is a surprisingly sweet ballad, while “Vincent Price” closes things in imposing, moody fashion. If this winds up being their last studio album, they’ll be going out on a high note. (MSN, April 30)

001tag43. Ranger, Knights of Darkness (Ektro)

This year’s token “traditional” heavy metal album appears to be Satan’s Life Sentence, which has been making the rounds on several lists this month. Which is fantastic, because it’s a terrific album by a band making a long, long overdue comeback, but in my opinion the debut EP by Finland’s Ranger made an even stronger impression in 2013. Devotees of the classic speed metal sound pioneered by the likes of Exciter, Agent Steel, and Helstar, these five tracks capture the over-the-top energy of that classic sound, from the dynamic songwriting to the piercing screams by bassist Dimi Pontiac. These guys are all about looking and sounding like 1984, and they do it as well as anybody. (Decibel, December 18)

001tag42. Uzala, Tales of Blood and Fire (King of the Monsters)

I was a big fan of the Idaho band’s debut from last year, but was not prepared for the kind of leap they display on the follow-up. This time around they’ve brought in the great Tad Doyle as producer, and the recording is not only better, but singer/guitarist Darcy Nutt is a revelation, delivering powerful vocal melodies to go along with the blend of doom and drone on such tracks as “Seven Veils” and “Dark Days”. At times it approaches Jex Thoth levels of majesty. (Decibel, October 16)

001tag41. Noisem, Agony Defined (A389)

I was lucky enough to have young Baltimore thrash phenoms Noisem roll through my part of the world, and while I was already an admirer of the band – Agony Defined is the best thrash album of the year – I was curious to see how their intense yet riffy brand of thrash translated live. The poor folks gathered on the floor of the club, they didn’t know what hit them. They arrived early to see Skeletonwitch and the Black Dahlia Murder, and found themselves face to face with a crazed singer who broke the fourth wall in total hardcore fashion, pacing back and forth on the floor, screaming in people’s faces. There’s none of that in metal, that’s a hardcore thing, I thought derisively, but egads did it have an effect. A few startled people drifted away, but more were drawn by the psychotic spectacle and drifted closer to the stage to experience this band’s blistering music head-on. For a 25-minute opening set it was enormously impressive that a band could summon that much energy and rage at 8:00 in front of 30 people, but Noisem did so in convincing fashion. These kids are for real. (Decibel, November 13)