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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

Stomach Earth, 'Stomach Earth'

Courtesy of Black Market Activities

18

Stomach Earth, ‘Stomach Earth’

If Stomach Earth's debut LP is what the planet's gut sounds like, some Pepto Bismol may be in order. This is a good thing! Mastermind Mike McKenzie, who hails from the witchy locale Salem, Massachusetts, cooked up some especially lugubrious doom spells for the grumbly, rumbly LP. His unholy ire and machine-like minor-key riffing on guitar and violin make for one of the most compelling and acrimonious doom debuts in recent years. Furious hopelessness has rarely sounded so enthralling.

Melt-Banana, "Fetch"

Courtesy of Melt-Banana

17

Melt-Banana, ‘Fetch’

Here is where you can hear people yelling, "OK, they're really not metal" but we can make room for Melt-Banana, who used to tour with Dave Witte, one of the greatest metal drummers who's ever lived, as a bandmember. On Fetch, the band is reduced to the duo of pedal-hopping guitarist Agata, singer Yasuko Onuki, the undisputed queen of chirp, and a drum machine that does things Man was not meant to do. Onuki is the tiny bird careening around the Tokyo electrical grid, squeaking with every feedback surge and digital blurt.

Steven Wilson, 'The Raven Refused to Sing (And Other Stories)'

Courtesy of Kscope

16

Steven Wilson, ‘The Raven Refused to Sing (And Other Stories)’

After years spent remixing King Crimson, ELP and Jethro Tull records and decades fronting Porcupine Tree, art-rock firebrand Steven Wilson made his own prog touchstone with his third solo album, The Raven That Refused to Sing. As bandleader and coproducer (alongside Pink Floyd associate Alan Parsons), Wilson coaxed one of the most economical and soulful solos of all time from guitarist Guthrie Govan on "Drive Home" and encouraged Parsons to rig a wah-wah pedal backwards for some haw-haw guitar on "The Holy Drinker." The album is lush, heady and often exhilarating, but most important, it's progressive in the most literal way: Raven is Wilson's most advanced work to date.

Voivod, "Target Earth"

Courtesy of Century Media Records

15

Voivod, ‘Target Earth’

No way Target Earth should have worked as well as it does. 32 years in, these French-Canadian prog-metal titans make their first album since the year 2005 death of guitarist Denis "Piggy" D'Amour and bring back O.G.  bassist Jean-Yves "Blacky" Thériault. It should have exploded on takeoff. And yet, boom, Earth annihilated by planet-busting riffs and the band's signature, recombinant touches — head-scratching thrash, knuckle dragging dirge, elliptical structures, and singer Snake's deep-focus odd streak. Long may they rrröööaaarrr. 

Cathedral, 'The Last Spire'

Courtesy of Metal Blade Records

14

Cathedral, ‘The Last Spire’

"Bring out your dead," says the first voice on The Last Spire, and it couldn't seem more appropriate, considering frontman Lee Dorrian has proclaimed the record to be the Coventry stoner-metal band's last. On the rest of the LP, the group finishes strong, brandishing bottom-heavy grooves and certifiably maddening lyrics from Dorrian like, "A funeral is all I see, a funeral is all I feel," from the horror-soundtrack-ready "An Observation." The Last Spire is a fittingly crushing swan song. 

Church of Misery, 'My Kingdom Scum'

Courtesy of Metal Blade Records

13

Church of Misery, ‘My Kingdom Scum’

Little has changed for Japanese metal doomsayers Church of Misery since they put out their 2001 debut, a record that features serial killer John Wayne Gacy on the cover and bore the punny Sabbath title Master of Brutality. Their fifth album, Thy Kingdom Scum, still bulges with bluesy Tony Iommi-inspired riffs, murder-minded allusions, audio samples and even a steroidal cover of Seventies proggers Quartermass' "One Blind Mice." Other bands have turned on and tuned down to the formula before, but few have made it the sort of acid-trip-gone-bad that Church of Misery have on this record. 

Kylesa, "Ultraviolet"

Courtesy of Season of Mist

12

Kylesa, ‘Ultraviolet’

Kylesa has come a long way from being art-school kids fusing basement punk with biker metal down in Savannah. Singer-guitarists Laura Pleasants and Philip Cope have gotten increasingly psychedelic (two drummers, a brilliant cover of Pink Floyd's "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun" a few years ago), and "Ultraviolet" continues the evolution. The two still buzz and howl under the influence of Sabbath but much of "Ultraviolet" could almost pass for good ol' alt-rock. Check the Cure-like "Low Tide."

SubRosa, 'More Constant Than the Gods'

Courtesy of SubRosa

11

SubRosa, ‘More Constant Than the Gods’

Who knew Salt Lake City was capable of such dynamic, doomy magnificence? Three women and two men blend guitar-bass-drums with dueling violins and everyone contributes equally to the ritual. There are chamber music flourishes somewhere in there, as well as folky frames on which to hang the riffs, but Rebecca Vernon's plainsong vocals are as striking as the destruction they're buried in.

Clutch, "Earth Rocker"

Courtesy of Weathermaker Music

10

Clutch, ‘Earth Rocker’

Four Maryland lifers — road dogs who've been grinding since the early Fugazi administration, cranking out  seething admixtures of jam-band chops, careening blues-punk riffs and singer Neil Fallon's nerdy, piss-taking wiseass lyrics — release their hardest rocking set to date. Look for a go-go break (and some clever punning on the phrase "drop the bomb!") on "D.C. Sound Attack!" Inspirational verse: "If you're gonna do it/ do it live on stage/ or don't do it at all."

Inter Arma, "Sky Burial"

Courtesy of Inter Arma

9

Inter Arma, ‘Sky Burial’

Metal is always good at evoking the sound of lost hopes and the ravishing beauty of the emotional abyss. Inter Arma understands. "Sky Burial" is the sound of a Richmond, Virginia crew dragging the corpse up a Blue Ridge mountain, full of noisy drones and mathed-out overtones of fuzz and bellowing and complicated (sometimes very complicated) shadows lasting 10 minutes or more. Impossibly dense guitars soar and dive like buzzards, a flock devouring the fallen.

Earthless, 'From the Ages'

Courtesy of Tee Pee Records

8

Earthless, ‘From the Ages’

Despite their far-out band name, Earthless sound born of the Third Stone From the Sun on their third album, locking into Hendrix-inspired grooves and jamming out in a way that's both heavy and somehow separate from the lineage of Black Sabbath. The San Diego instrumental psych-rock trio achieves a groove-y state of mind on each of the album's four, epic-length songs. The 30-minute title track is a trip in itself, if not just for the way it moves from locomotive riffs to an exotic slow section, only to finish with a noisy, metal riff; it's one of the heftiest heavy jams recorded this year.

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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