Kez’s Top 20 Albums Of 2013

By on 31 December 2013


2013 has given us an overwhelming number of great records, and as the means by which music is created and distributed become ever more accessible we can expect that number to increase exponentially over the next few years. There are those that would have you believe that this is a bad thing, that music is becoming over-saturated to the point where we can no longer make meaningful connections to any of the 20 + albums we hear in a single day, but I’ve come to think that this criticism says more about the listening habits of the person making it than it does about humankind’s ability to engage with music as a whole. Provided you’re willing to take the time to let an album seep into your subconscious and grow inside you, there’s still a whole universe of stunningly realised works of art to enjoy within our current musical climate.

That said, there have been a vast amount of records that have occupied my time over the past 12 months, and ranking them in order of preference has been no small task. So don’t read too much into the numerical values below, just take this as a list of 20 awesome records that I think are worthy of your time.

First off though, let’s address the elephant in the room – that Black Sabbath album. I was actually quite pleasantly surprised by it, and didn’t think it was the unmitigated disaster that some people seem to making it out to be, but Brad Wilk’s lifeless drumming and the fact that, well, many of the bands below actually ended up making better Sabbath records this year meant that it had to be ousted from the list. Also, honourable mentions have to go out to Agrimonia, All Pigs Must Die, Altar Of Plagues, Bong, Carcass, Coffins, Gnaw, Grave Miasma, Dead Neanderthals, Tim Hecker, Kylesa, Mannheim, Obliteration, OvO, Sacriphyx, Station Dysthymia, Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats, Unkind & Chelsea Wolfe, all of whom put out exceptional records this year that would have made it on to this list, had it been a top 40. And that’s before we’ve even broached the subject of EPs; 11 Paranoias, Crypt Lurker, Ranger, Ghold… the list is practically endless! Anyway, enough procrastinating…


nails-abandon-all-life20. Nails -Abandon All Life (Southern Lord)

Unlike a certain bunch of sunbathing San Franciscans (ahem), these guys deserve every inch of the hype that’s currently being lathered all over them. It may not be quite as terrifyingly intense as ‘Unsilent Death’, but then, besides a handful of death row’s most heinous inmates, what is?



windhsoma19. Windhand – Soma (Relapse)

Vibrating with a slightly darker aura than their debut, ‘Soma’ hits hard with a rich, anthemic backbone and velvet lined riffs that would get Iommi himself hot under the collar. Glorious!




ironlung18. Iron Lung – White Glove Test (Iron Lung Records)

Wow, has it really been 6 years since the last Iron Lung album? Along with Water Torture, I’d say these guys are the best representation of contemporary powerviolence, and it feels damn good to have them back. ‘White Glove Test’ is easily one of 2013’s most volatile records, and the decision to package it with an alternate noise version of the album (designed to be listened to both as a separate listening experience and as a simultaneous companion piece) adds even more replay value to an already dangerously addictive opus.


mossnight17. Moss – Horrible Night (Rise Above)

In which Moss dropped the drones and embraced their inner Wizard. Sure, the vibe is a little more upbeat, but only in the same way that a post-funeral banquet is slightly less of a bummer than the wake itself. The vocals are on one heavy Sabbath trip, but those lurching riffs are still unmistakeably Moss. A truly great doom album that’ll have you howling along before the end of your first listen.


jex16. Jex Thoth – Blood Moon Rise (I Hate Records)

Jex Thoth’s self titled debut established the band as a cut above most of the retro/occult rock chancers, and the wait for the follow up has seemed like forever. ‘Blood Moon Rise’ is a very different beast to its predecessor however – it may take a few spins for this to fully seep under your skin, but it’s well worth it. Much of their debut’s driving groove has been replaced with a sultry, slow burning elegance, whilst retaining that sumptuous atmosphere and a theatrical bent that makes this one very inviting journey indeed.


seidr15. Seidr – Ginnungagap (Bindrune Recordings)

A sprawling, double disc voyage, ‘Ginnungagap’ is not for the faint of heart, but if you invest a little time in this behemoth you’ll be greatly rewarded. The record’s glacial pace and vast, cinematic scope are very impressive indeed, whilst the rich, earthy atmosphere is highly reminiscent of a doomier version of Austin Lunn’s other band, Panopticon. Indeed, just like Panopticon, Lunn’s inventive and passionate drumming grants these weighty pieces a whole new level of intensity, securing ‘Ginnungagap’s place as one of 2013’s most essential listening experiences.


mbvcover14. My Bloody Valentine – mbv (MBV Records)

One of the year’s most unexpected comebacks also turned out to be one of the most successful. Those hazy, washed out guitarscapes have lost none of their potency, ebbing over you like that weird, lucid sensation you get just as you pass in between wakefulness and sleep. All in all, we couldn’t have asked for a more perfect follow-up to ‘Loveless’, even if it did take over two decades to arrive!



Vista_chino_-_peace_album_cover13. Vista Chino – Peace (Napalm)

Look beyond the name changes and legal disputes and you’ll find a record that jams harder than a faulty pinball machine. New guitarist Bruno Fevery plays it relatively safe; his serpentine licks are heavily indebted to Josh Homme and more than reminiscent of that classic Kyuss sound, but he adds enough of his own identity to prevent this from being a lifeless photo copy. Garcia and Bjork are on fine form as always, and it’s hard to imagine there are any Kyuss fans out there who were disappointed with this record. Maybe best to stay away from this if your new year’s resolution is to kick the herb however, as not even the staunchest straight edge kid could resist the urge to light up a fatty to this little beauty…


church12. Church Of Misery – Thy Kingdom Scum (Rise Above)

Why? Well, it’s Church Of Misery, duh. These guys are as reliable as clockwork if it’s swaggering, Sabbath infused riff-a-ramas you’re after, but they sound particularly energised here. Grooves as large as Britain’s unemployment figures, wah bass so funky you can smell it from miles away, some truly cosmic leads and stupidly entertaining vocals that sound like a completely rat arsed Phil Anselmo doing his best Ian Gillan impression – what’s not to enjoy?



cathedral11. Cathedral – The Last Spire (Rise Above)

It’s still beyond gutting that this doom institution has called it quits, but man, what an album to bow out with! ‘The Last Spire’ is the heaviest Cathedral have sounded in years, as amply evidenced by songs like ‘Cathedral Of The Damned’ and the humongous ‘Pallbearer’. The prog elements from the past few records haven’t completely disappeared either (check out that keyboard solo on ‘An Observation’!), making this one of the most well rounded records in their imposing discography. Album centre piece ‘Infestation Of Grey Death’ is a depiction of a distinctly British kind of misery (“Drudgery of the factory, funds material slavery / A holiday beside the sea, some tickets for the lottery”) that only Cathedral can really pull off. They will be sorely missed.


subrosa10. SubRosa – More Constant Than The Gods (Profound Lore)

A heartfelt and intensely passionate musical voyage that somehow manages to sound tender whilst soul wrenchingly heavy at the same time. Few doom releases this year even hinted at this kind of profundity.




ULVER_MESSE_I.X-VI.X_cover_small9. Ulver – Messe I.X – VI.X (Jester Records)

Another year, another chance for Ulver to reinvent themselves. After the ever-so-slightly disappointing ‘Wars Of The Roses’, ‘Messe I.X – VI.X’ somehow manages to be a return to form whilst also venturing into new sonic pastures. The stark, chamber music vibe of this album feels almost like a continuation of ‘Shadows Of The Sun’s sombre pallet, but stands on its own as a very distinct and breath-takingly beautiful new entry in Ulver’s stellar back catalogue. Watching this band’s continued and prolonged evolution is an absolute joy – that Sunn O))) collaboration can’t arrive fast enough!


DC544_gatefold_OUT_201112 FIX38. Ensemble Pearl – Ensemble Pearl (Drag City)

With Boris sticksman Atsuo, free wheeling psych guitar hero Michio Kurihara, former Jesse Sykes & The Sweet Hereafter bassist Bill Herzog and drone overlord Stephen O’Malley on board, there was no way this could fail really, but damn, I didn’t expect it to be this good. It’s like Tangerine Dream met Ennio Morricone in an opium den somewhere in deepest Peru, got to know each other over a couple of poppy filled pipes and then proceeded to make tranquil, sedated love until sunrise.



cloudrat7. Cloud Rat – Moksha (Halo Of Flies)

It’s tempting to call this the most aggressive grind record of 2013, but it’s so much more than that. In addition to the expected anger and hostility, there’s moments of cathartic sadness, bittersweet nostalgia and even desperate optimism (most notably on the triumphant ‘Inimitable Sea’). Cloud Rat really are a unique band, (seriously, how many grind bands could you name that could cover Neil Young and resist the urge to turn it into a flat-out Anal Cunt style parody? I know I couldn’t!) and ‘Moksha’ is perhaps their most powerful statement thus far.


KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA6. Autopsy – The Headless Ritual (Peaceville)

2013 yielded a metric fuck-tonne of great death metal albums (Grave Miasma, Coffins, Suffocation, and Carcass, of course), but this was my favourite by a country mile. In fact, with the abundance of doomy, Trouble worshipping riffs, creepy, ominous atmosphere, truly gruesome vocals and the single most rabid death metal song of the year (‘Running From The Goathead’), I’d go as far as to say that this is the best Autopsy release since ‘Mental Funeral’.



primitiveman5. Primitive Man – Scorn (Relapse)

An imposing monolith of a record that feels like watching yourself get beaten up in a dark alley in stomach churning slow motion, this was one of 2013’s bleakest listening experiences. Unlike many of the sludge bands currently doing the rounds however, these guys sound like they really mean it. Every drop of bile and vitriol on ‘Scorn’ feels completely genuine, making it sound unnervingly invigorating and completely terrifying at the same time.



underground4. Darkthrone – The Underground Resistance (Peaceville)

If you were to travel back to the early 90’s and inform the black metal faithful that in 2013, Darkthrone would put out an overtly melodic and unashamedly fun heavy metal record named after Detroit’s most infamous techno collective, you’d have been laughed out of the Peaceville offices faster than you can say “Agent Steel”. It seems Ted and Gylve have had the last laugh though, as this album is so crammed full of highlights it’s hard to know where to start. ‘Lesser Men’s utterly righteous soloing? ‘Valkyrie’s soaring, infectious chorus? ‘Come Warfare, The Entire Doom’s gnarly, belligerent riffs? All 13 glorious minutes of ‘Leave No Cross Unturned’? Yep, ‘The Underground Resistance’ has it all!


wolvserpent3. Wolvserpent – Perigaea Antahkarana (Relapse)

The extreme metal community has been guilty of using the word ‘ritualistic’ so much over the past few years that it’s almost lost all meaning, but the term seems entirely applicable in Wolvserpent’s case, as anyone who has lost themselves within the ominous, psychotic atmosphere of ‘Within The Light Of Fire’ will attest. ‘Perigaea Antahkarana’ is an exquisitely beautiful and immensely powerful record that draws from doom, drone, black metal and even contemporary classical music to create something quite extraordinary indeed, and emanates with one of the most organic atmospheres I’ve encountered in a very long time. This is the perfect companion for those long, dark winter nights.


thebody2. The Body – Christs, Redeemers (Thrill Jockey)

Narrowly beating Primitive Man for the title of ‘2013’s Most Pant Shittingly Terrifying Record’, The Body’s latest is a daunting voyage through religious fanaticism, severe mental illness and riffs so evil that your stereo is going to need one hell of an exorcism after spinning this masterpiece. The duo’s more straight-forward sludgy segments are probably their most harrowing and uncompromising yet, whilst their use of choral elements and textural noise feels more integral and well orchestrated than ever before. The Body’s best album so far? Yep, and then some…



correctionss1. Corrections House – Last City Zero (Neurot Recordings)

What do you get when you combine the talents of Eyehategod’s Mike Williams, Neurosis’ Scott Kelly, Minsk’s Sanford Parker and Yakuza’s Bruce Lamont? There are many different things I’d expect from that line-up, but it’s safe to say the cyber-punk fervour meets film noir melancholy of ‘Last City Zero’ was not one of them. The album covers a lot of ground whilst still remaining cohesive and incredibly engaging; ‘Bullets And Graves’ sounds like Ministry being beaten to death by Discharge, ‘Dirt Poor And Mentally Ill’ sounds like how I imagine Godflesh would if they grew up in the slums of New Orleans rather than the streets of Birmingham, and ‘Drapes Hung By Jesus’, well, it just sounds like the end of the world.

Ranking these albums has been a difficult challenge, but given that Williams’ lucid, Bukowski-esque rant over the sombre strains of the album’s title track is one of the most bizarrely affecting things I’ve heard all year, this one had to take the number one spot. Now when’s that follow up due out?

About Kez Whelan

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