Well, it's finally time to sit down and look back on the year that was and celebrate the fact that 2013 was a very strong year for heavy music of every stripe. My belief that we shouldn't judge a year until it's actually done, coupled with my very gradual (read: glacial) working pace over Christmas, has put me several weeks behind where I originally intended to be on this, but now that 2013 exists only in our memories, and I've got all my ducks in a row, I'm ready to jump on the bandwagon of musical criticism (every other metal website out there has of course had their "Top X of 2013" lists up for, like, two months now).
Now, before you read the following list and then explode with rage at my selections, let's establish right now that these are my personal favourites from last year, the albums that I would say I spent the most time listening to and enjoying. I am in no way saying that these are definitively or objectively the ten "best" albums from 2013. Yes, the words "Ten Best" do appear in the title of this post, but in the context of being the Loud Noises Ten Best, not the Ten Best. So there. I refuse to take any responsibility for any butthurt you might incur from the omission of your favourite band or album.
So, without further ado, and in no particular order, please enjoy the Loud Noises Ten Best albums of 2013.
- Tesseract - Altered State
Tesseract's first LP One left me such a fanboy that I probably would have lapped up new material like a cartoon cat with a saucer of milk regardless of its quality. What good fortune then that follow-up full-legnth Altered State is so goddamned awesome. Call it metal, call it prog, call it djent if you feel you must, but whatever label you choose to apply to Tesseract, you can't deny their infectious groove and rhythmic power. More than perhaps any other band represented on this list, Tesseract are a band you can put on for your non-metal head friends and still reasonably expect them to enjoy it. Yeah, you read that right: Tesseract are an accessible metal or "heavy" band, but in a way that renders "accessibility" a good quality instead of a dirty word.
- The Ocean - Pelagial
If you'll pardon the nautical pun, Pelagial is album with a very deep concept. The idea, if I understand things correctly, is that the sonic journey of the album from start to finish is supposed to represent or replicate the experience of descending into the depths of the ocean. Of course, Pelagial doesn't adhere to this template rigidly, but rather does so just enough to sketch out the concept's bones. The prettier, prog-rockier early parts of the record, replete with piano parts, give way to denser, more prog-metally parts, and things get doomier mood-wise as we get further down. Interestingly, Pelagial is also one of several albums I've come across lately (another being Tesseract's Altered State from above) that come with both a regular version of the album and an instrumental one. Regular readers will know I'm a fan of instrumental music, but it's a true testament to The Ocean's songwriting and musicianship that Pelagial is just as enthralling without any vocals at all.
- Revocation - Revocation
Thrash is dead! Long live thrash! I've heard the whole movement of which Revocation can be considered part called retro-thrash, or re-thrash, but there's nothing retro about the Boston band's badass sound. What Revocation plays is decidedly modern thrash, an evolutionary leap forward from the kind of metal bands like Metallica used to play back in their heyday. And yet, Revocation has a classic feel too, like it would be at home alongside any era of fast and furious metal. Revocation is also one of those albums that satisfies with its own awesomeness at the same time that it whets the appetite for more awesomeness to come. Songs like "The Hive", "Archfiend", and "Invidious", to name just a few, make me very excited to hear what Revocation will come up with next time out.
- letlive. - The Blackest Beautiful
Yet another year has gone by without a major new release from post-hardcore legends Glassjaw, making them the genre's equivalent of Tool in terms of productivity. An album like The Blackest Beautiful, however, is enough to make you say "go ahead and take your time, Glassjaw". I don't know that everybody would agree with me on this one, but I really feel that letlive has the vibe of a "spiritual successor" to Glassjaw, especially with The Blackest Beautiful. They've got the same blend of energy, aggression, and pop sensibilities and vocal stylings. Glassjaw's Worship and Tribute is still a classic, but letlive might have crafted the modern equivalent in The Blackest Beautiful. And if they haven't done it here, their next album is going to slay.
- Misery Signals - Absent Light
This one is a little like Tesseract's Altered State, in the sense that I've been a Misery Signals fan for a long time and would probably have been satisfied with just about whatever Misery Signals came up with. I don't know if it's possible to re-bottle the lightning of earlier Misery Signals albums (2008's Controller is still my favourite) but Absent Light is still a rock solid balance between the dense technicality of Misery Signals' more recent work and the earnest aggression of their early stuff. As a supporter of the band's Indiegogo campaign, I for one am fully satisfied with the album that the band came up with, and would do it all over again in a heartbeat.
- East of the Wall - Redaction Artifacts
A word I often like to use about the sound and style of the band above, Misery Signals, is "dense". This is a word that could also be applied to East of the Wall's latest, Redaction Artifacts. "Dense" in the sense that there's so much going on. If you read even the occasional post around here, you'll know I like to try and compare bands to other bands, to help all of you get a bit better handle on things before you press play. East of the Wall had me stumped, and in the best possible way. Redaction Artifacts is unorthodox, but not inaccessible, technical, but not overly so, disharmonious, but not amelodic... I could keep pulling juxtapositions out of my ass all day, but a better use of your time would be to just go on Youtube and find out for yourself exactly why East of the Wall and Redaction Artifacts resist my attempts at classification and description.
- Anciients - Heart of Oak
As I've made clear in an Anciients Song of the Day, Heart of Oak is a hard album to pin down. It's a well-forged alloy of Mastodony post-metal, Opethian prog, straight-up death metal, and healthy helpings of classic metal and rock. Sprinkle in some impressive drum work, some vocal variety, and some truly tasty guitar leads, and you've got a delicious brew that is, incredibly, only the debut LP from this Vancouver band. I can only imagine what a little maturity will do for a band that's already this technically sophisticated.
- Plini - Other Things
I don't know if it's cheating a little or not to include an EP on my list of ten best "albums" of last year, but I don't really care. Plini is an incredibly talented guy, and he's put out some incredibly rad music in the past year, but his first EP Other Things was how I initially discovered his work, and of all his releases so far it's the one that's spent the most time coming out of my speakers since I got it. More than almost any other act on this list, I can't wait to hear what's next from this rising star, and that's saying something. It'll be absolutely criminal if Plini doesn't eventually get huge.
- Protest the Hero - Volition
Another longtime favourite of mine, Protest the Hero could almost do no wrong on this one. Me and thousands of other Indiegogo contributors basically said (or gambled) as much when we threw scads of money into a Protest-shaped hole in the internet. News of drummer Moe Carlson's departure disheartened as much as word of his session replacement Chris Adler excited. In the end, we needn't have worried about a thing: Protest's technicalilty is still top notch, and while the prog is dialed down, the songwriting is dialed way up. These are some of the best songs -- not collections of cool riffs and parts strung together -- of the band's career.
- Circles - Infinitas
The debut LP from Australia's prog-djent darlings Circles demonstrated that not only can the band craft riffs but songs as well. That was the thing about the band's 2011 EP The Compass: it was full to the brim with tasty riffs and bits, but the songs weren't always cohesive wholes so much as these riffs and bits strung together serviceably (sound familiar? *cough* Protest the Hero *cough*). Don't get me wrong, I really really dig The Compass, but for the most part you can't really build any kind of a career with just a good collection of riffs. You need some solid songs. Circles seems to think so too, as they brought an album's worth of solid material to the party with Infinitas. With initial outings as strong as The Compass and now Infinitas, this is yet another case of me being well stoked to hear a sophomore LP.
Aaaaannnnd there you have it. Not exactly ringing in the new year punctually, but as they say, better late than never. Right? Right?!