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20 Best Metal Albums of 2013

The year’s wildest, smartest, most intense heavy music

Heavy Metal Albums

Courtesy of Reprise Records; Courtesy of Peaceville; Courtesy of Deathwish; Courtesy of Century Media Records

Are these the most extremely extreme albums of the year? No, they're more interesting and exciting than that. If there's a thread running through these records, it is a lack of purity, a willingness to mess with metal's structures and strictures. Here are Rolling Stone's 20 favorite metal albums of 2013.

Contributors: Joe Gross, Kory Grow and David Marchese

Courtesy Sumerian

7

Dillinger Escape Plan, ‘One of Us Is the Killer’

With an opening riff that approximates all the bombast of the horn-heavy James Bond theme, One of Us Is the Killer makes its case for being one of the more adrenaline-inducing metal LPs to come out this year. The opening track, whose title "Prancer" belies its bloodlust, mixes angular guitars with triangle chimes. While that's business as usual for the Jersey math-core thrashers, Dillinger Escape Plan upped their ante for writing catchy rock numbers to space out the shock treatment of their ragers. The album's centerpiece, "Nothing's Funny," is a hook-fueled rocker that's catchy without being cloying. Finally, the band has broken the mold of Faith No More-like rockers it had been flirting with in favor of something unique.

Blood Ceremony, 'The Eldritch Dark'

Courtesy of Metal Blade Records

6

Blood Ceremony, ‘The Eldritch Dark’

Unabashed occult enthusiasts Blood Ceremony still put on the best renaissance-metal act this side of Ghost B.C. – full of vintage-style synth and flute breaks – but on their third record, The Eldritch Dark, they maybe just believed it bit more and their Alice Cooper-via-Jethro Tull act came into its own. "Ballad of Weird Sisters" puts barnyard fiddlin' in a stompy hard-rock context, and "Drawing Down the Moon" is the prettiest song Dio-era Rainbow never recorded. It's a rare band that can put on a retro act and innovate at the same time.

Gorguts, 'Colored Sands'

Courtesy of Season of Mist

5

Gorguts, ‘Colored Sands’

Avant-metal radicals Gorguts took 12 years off and came back as heroes of weird metal, thanks to the technical death-metal tangents they indulge throughout Colored Sands. Some of the credit for that should go to the ringers that frontman Luc Lemay hired in 2009 to complete the band's lineup, musicians who have performed fretboard acrobats previously with extreme-metal malcontents like Dysrhythmia and Krallice. They jive with Lemay's vision perfectly on Colored Sands, and together the Quebec crushers bend the rules of metal for a Dadaist approach on the album that's both discomforting and invigorating.

In Solitude, "Sister"

Courtesy of Metal Blade Records

4

In Solitude, ‘Sister’

With singer Pelle Ahmen's fight-the-horde belt leading these Swedes into battle, this black mass functions much like Sonic Youth's Sister:"a smart band putting the pieces together in a way that both solidifies and futzes with their sound adding goth rock textures to old school Scandinavian thrash worship, making for a record that sounds both more accessible and more personal.  

Windhand, 'Soma'

Courtesy of Relapse Records

3

Windhand, ‘Soma’

If Windhand played the songs on Soma any faster, they just might sound like a punk band. But because most of the Virginia doom crew's oeuvre maintains a pulse just above flat lining, they constructed a mournful yowl they can call their own. Their secret weapon – other than heaping servings of feedback – is frontwoman Dorthia Cottrell, whose vocals sound as if she's singing them from another realm, breaking through some gauze of reality. Judging from how Soma turned out, the rest of Windhand should encourage her to get comfortable in that headspace.

Kvelertak, 'Meir'

Courtesy of Roadrunner

2

Kvelertak, ‘Meir’

Two minutes and forty-five seconds into "Bruane Brenn," the Norwegian sextet brings its maelstrom to a halt and lets some light in, as the guitarists Vidar Landa, Bjarte Lund Rolland, and Maciek Ofstad let loose some major key licks — it's as heroically epic a moment as rock delivered in 2013. That sort of savage beauty is all over Meir, the band's second effort. Even when frontman Erlend Hjelvik is growling and roaring, as on "Evig Vandrar," the band injects a glorious AOR approachability. It may not be pure, but it's purely thrilling. 

Deafheaven, "Sunbather"

Courtesy of Deathwish

1

Deafheaven, ‘Sunbather’

Part black metal scream, part shoegaze blur, all emotional overload, complete with a pink cover and a title implying that the musicians therein do, indeed, go outside, Sunbather was a mind-blower, bowling over innocent listeners with fist-pumping hooks that wouldn't sound out of place on whatever U2 is finishing up. To paraphrase their sonic forefathers Godspeed You! Black Emperor, "Sunbather" raise its skinny fists like antennas to heaven, while keeping a toe in hell.

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