Saturday, January 18, 2014

A Bombastic Baker’s Dozen

The Top 13 Metal Albums of 2013
 (and some other stuff)

Muthas, 2013 was yet another great year for Metal and we have picked a Baker’s Dozen of the best metal albums of the year. We’ve also picked the best live releases, best reissues, best concerts and the biggest disappointments of the year.  Read on!

The Thirteen Best Albums of 2013

2013 brought an avalanche of quality steel to abuse your tattered eardrums. These are the thirteen albums that dominated our turntables, CD players, and MP3 players at The Metal Blog of Metal. 

Enforcer – Death By Fire

Swedish speedsters Enforcer crush skulls on their third LP with a stellar mixture of U.S. Speed, NWOBHM and Scandinavian Glory Metal.  This is a very focused, all killer-no filler collection of ripping Speed Metal and at just under 40 minutes, it's the perfect length for vinyl.  Take a listen to the awesome triumvirate of “Mesmerized By Fire,” “Take Me Out of This Nightmare,” and “Crystal Suite” if you want to hear superb traditional metal done like the titans of ye olden daze.  If only Iron Maiden could conjure up something as compelling rather than being an old man prog band.

Orchid – The Mouth of Madness

The Band That Can Do No Wrong continues their dominance with their latest full length disc of 70s doom.  The Mouth of Madness is what everybody wanted 13 to sound like, which of course, it didn’t.  Orchid serves up more amazingly hooky traditional metal as if they’ve been doing this since 1971.  Damn these guys are good.  Once again, Theo Mindell’s art matches the music and adds to the overall experience - believe it or not, things like cover art and fonts matter.  You should immediately buy this platter of crushing doom mastery. 

Holy Grail – Ride The Void

California metallions Holy Grail return with an album chock full of guitar wizardry and catchy anthems.  It’s easy to see that they will be one of the modern traditional metal bands that will gain a large audience. Once again the songs are loaded with insanely tasty riffs, leads and solos, as well as a pounding bottom end and the masterful vocals of James Paul Luna. They also have an amazing work ethic and are tireless road warriors.  We managed to catch them twice this year alone in two separate cities.  Hailz to them for cranking out a disc that simply announces – WE CAME TO SHRED!

Saxon – Sacrifice

Speaking of road warriors, Saxon has released yet another album of rock hard traditional metal. This time they have returned to more of the power metal sound they had on Metalhead, rather than the midpaced material of their last album.  The result is excellent and another solid entry in their lengthy catalog. All hail the mighty Saxon

Hell – Curse & Chapter

Hell’s second official album is about 80% new material with a few re-recorded ancient demos.  It’s a great follow up to Human Remains and dispels any fears that Hell wouldn’t be able to put out new material to match their 80s output.  Once again they offer up a riff-packed journey through diabolically dangerous metallic landscapes. Definitely worth the coin and 
one of the best of the year. Buy it!

Night Demon – Night Demon

This is absolutely our favorite release of 2013 here at The Metal Blog of Metal.  Our opinion of the album hasn’t changed since we reviewed it here back in May.  It’s an amazing EP that showcases a superb NWOBHM sound akin to Grim Reaper, Iron Maiden and Diamond Head.  It’s a goddamn metal masterpiece in every way possible!  We eagerly await their full length LP in 2014 and it should kick much ass.  Hailz boys and thanks for a great EP!  

U.D.O. – Steelhammer

U.D.O. the band and Udo the man finally crank out an album to match the ferocity of the latest Accept releases and ditch that shitty electronic guitar sound that had marred their last couple of albums.  There are a couple of weird diversions on the album, but it is dominated by vicious, pounding steel the majority of the time. Check out our full review here. This is definitely worth adding to your U.D.O./Accept collection. 

Witch Cross – Axe To Grind

Who ever thought Witch Cross would release another album? Not us, that’s for sure.  1984’s Fit For Fight is one of the crown jewels of Danish metal, so it would be tough to follow up.  Unfortunately, original vocalist Alex “Savage” Nyborg Madsen did not take part in the reunion, but, fortunately, the band chose Kevin Moore as his replacement.  Moore is a former touring member of Oliver/Dawson Saxon, and as a result, Axe To Grind has a heavy Saxon influence.  This is straight down the middle, meat and potatoes, traditional heavy metal.  It’s nothing fancy, but it’s executed brilliantly and is very enjoyable.  Sure, it doesn’t sound like “Tears of a Clown,” but it still kicks all kinds of ass.  Pick it up!

Motorhead – Aftershock

So who thought we might never hear another Motorhead album?  Thankfully, Lemmy and the boys managed to record one hell of a great album considering Lemmy’s health problems.  Amazingly it’s much more aggressive than the somewhat lackluster The World Is Ours and there’s not a dull moment on it.  It’s probably their best since Inferno and we have you banging your head with wild abandon.  Isn’t that what you’ve come to expect from Motorhead? Damn straight it is.

Vicious Rumors – Electric Punishment

Vicious Rumors continues down the path that they forged with Razorback Killers and put out another excellent album that showcases their superb USPM sound.  Unfortunately, this album has gotten lost in the shuffle do to vocalist Brian Allen having to leave the band due to family issues. Don't let that dissuade you as there are many killer cuts on it such as “I Am The Gun,” “Electric Punishment,” and “Thirst For A Kill.”  Get it!

Black Sabbath – 13

We expected this album to be an unmitigated disaster, but, amazingly enough, it’s a good album.  Certainly the cover art is completely lazy bullshit and the album title sucks ass.  Also, the lack of Bill Ward is very noticeable and the album is another victim of shithead Rick Rubin’s loudness wars.  However, Tony Iommi’s riffs are amazing as ever, Geezer’s bass is crushing and Ozzy’s voice is acceptable.  The tracks sound like either a very good early Ozzy album, or a Dio Sabbath album with Ozzy on vocals.  13 doesn’t invoke memories of the Sabs 70s mastery (if you want that, listen to the new Orchid), but it’s not a black mark on their legacy 
either. Be sure to pick up the special edition with the track "Naivete In Black" on it, as that song is excellent.

BAT – Primitive Age (Demo)

This was a late entry to the list, but it’s very worthy of high praise.  BAT is made up of Ryan Waste from Municipal Waste and Volture, Felix Griffin of DRI fame, and Nick Poulos of Cannabis Corpse and Volture.  What we have here is greasy, dirty speed metal/thrash that pays a great amount of homage to the mighty Venom.  Waste does his best Chronos on vox and bass and the result is cranking steel fury that will please both the oldest and youngest Thrashers alike.  It might only be a demo, but it’s better than the majority of slickly produced albums that are constantly foisted upon the Metal buying public.  Go here and download it for free!  I hope they do a 7” vinyl release asap!  Total wreckage indeed!

Satan – Life Sentence

Well holy shit, this is awesome!  One usually cringes when an old NWOBHM band has a reunion and promises a return to their original sound.  Normally the result is a sub-par collection of middling garbage that fails to re-capture the magic of their early material.  That couldn’t be further from the truth with Life Sentence because it’s a face-melting collection of NWOBHM excellence.  Brian Ross sounds great and the songs will wreck your neck like it’s 1982.  This should have been the follow up to Court In The Act back in the day.  Buy this album immediately if not sooner! Damn it's good!

Live – In the Raw!  - The best live albums/DVDs

Testament – Dark Roots of Thrash

Bay Area bruisers Testament deliver a new live album/DVD that perfectly captures their current live set.  The camera work on the DVD is particularly good and it is one of the most cinematic treatments we have seen of concert footage.  The setlist is evenly split between classics and current material, but omits most of their 90s output.  Thankfully the mix is much better than the last couple of times we saw Testament live, because you can actually hear Chuck's vocals!  If you like Testament then you should definitely add this to your collection.

Dio – Finding The Sacred Heart – Live In Philly 1986

This CD/DVD features Dio at the height of their popularity with their massive stage show featuring lasers, knights in plate armor and a huge, animatronic dragon.  The band sounds great and Ronnie is in fine voice.  Viewing the DVD is a somewhat melancholy experience because it will remind you that the Man On The Silver Mountain has taken his final bow, but seeing him at his ferocious best helps take your mind off of it.  Long Live Rock n Roll!

Iron Maiden – Maiden England ‘88

Another in a long line of Maiden archival releases that really illustrates that Maiden knows how to make money like Gene Simmons.  What you get is the legendary Maiden England ’88 show on CD/DVD that showcases Maiden on the cusp of slipping into disarray, but still at their peak. They still sounded great at this point and Seventh Son was a decent enough album, but mediocrity was waiting in the wings.  The second disc of the DVD is especially nice because it features part 3 of the history of Iron Maiden as well as the long out of print 12 Wasted Years documentary.  

Best Reissues

2013 featured several excellent reissues that were long awaited in the Metal world.

Heretic From The Vault…Tortured and Broken

Finally!!!  Metal Blade Records released this excellent box set that includes the Torture Knows No Boundary EP, the Breaking Point LP along with tons of bonus tracks and a DVD!  It’s well worth the cost for the EP alone, which had never officially been released on CD. Grab this one before it goes out of print!

Jag Panzer – Tyrants, Ample Destruction, Shadow Thief, Dissident Alliance

We never thought there would be official reissues of Jag Panzer’s early catalog due to disagreements between former guitarist Joey Tafolla and the rest of the band.  Somehow that was all worked out and not only do we get these reissues, but Joey is back in the band!  You can pitch your shitty bootlegs in the trash and snap up these reissues from High Roller Records in a variety of formats – CD, colored Vinyl, Picture Disc and even a luxurious Picture Disc box set.  All the releases have been nicely remastered with loads of bonus tracks and restored artwork.  Buy or die!

Y&T – Earthquake: The A&M Years 1981-1985

This is a very nice 4 disc box set with the best output form San Francisco legends Y&T.  The set includes the Earthquake, Black Tiger, Meanstreak, In Rock We Trust, and Down For The Count studio albums along with the Open Fire and BBC Friday Rock Show live albums.  This release showcases Y&T at the peak of their careers and is fairly cheap as well.  If you don’t already own these albums, you should definitely buy this and enjoy the hard rocking excellence of a band that should have been huge. 

Witch Cross All That’s Fit For Fighting

This superb 3CD/1 DVD box set essentially purges the vaults of everything Witch Cross did before their new album Axe To Grind.  You get the ultra-classic Fit For Fight along with all their 80s demos and, amazingly enough, a DVD of a live show and music videos(!) that had never seen the light of day.  It’s all wrapped up in a very nice, thick, flip top box with a magnetic closure.  Truly an exceptional release and a must have for fans of classic Metal.

Best Concerts

Metal Alliance Tour – 4/7/13 Cincinnati, Ohio

Great package tour featuring, Anthrax, Exodus, Municipal Waste, High On Fire and Holy Grail ripping it up for 5 hours!  All the bands sounded great and it was a real treat to get our copies of Among The Living and Worship Music signed.  The only complaint was that Holy Grail didn’t have a very long set as it would have been nice to hear more from them.

Orange Goblin/Holy Grail/ Lazer Wulf – 10/26/13 Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

The mighty Orange Goblin tore it up on Halloween weekend in the Steel City.  They played an energetic set featuring songs from most of their albums.  It was their second swing through town in just 6 months and they did not disappoint.  Holy Grail once again was excellent and proved that they should be making the step up to headliner soon.  

Biggest Disappointments

Ghost – Infestissumam

It’s become fashionable to hate on Ghost because of all the coverage they get in the music press, but the problem with their new album doesn’t have anything to do with hype.  The real problem is Infestissumam is mostly boring and forgettable.  The album sounds pleasant enough, but nothing really sticks in the memory after the album is done.  In fact, the If You Have Ghost EP is more interesting and it consists of cover songs.  Try working on some more memorable hooks guys and better luck next time.

Newsted – Heavy Metal Music

We really wanted to like this album and it pains us to have to write this.  Jason is a great guy and his enthusiasm for his new band  and metal is obvious.  Unfortunately, Heavy Metal Music is rather bland and generic and Jason's vocals leave much to be desired.  The whole album sounds like a heavy/alt record that would have been released in 1994. Blah. Also, what’s with all the stupid song titles like “Soldierhead,” “Ampossible,” “Kindevillusion,” and “Futureality?”  Stop that shit Jason, it's goofy.  Here’s hoping that his next album is killer.

Have a great 2014, and, as always, MAKE MINE METAL!

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