2013 has been a very important year for me in my pursuit of dark music. This is the first year that I've really followed new releases closely, the first year I really dug into new music coming out with the intent of fully digesting it and understanding the artists. In a nutshell one could say it has been the year where my long time interest turned into a passion. With so many great releases just missing the cut for this list it was hard to cut those out and harder to put those that I picked in the order I have.
Without further ado I present to you my first year end list. I chose 15 because it seemed like the perfect number to display what I felt were the most worthy releases this year in the slew of amazing music that came out.
15. Dressed in Streams - The Search for Blood (Colloquial Sound Recordings)
After releasing a great full length and demo last year this mysterious United States band demonstrated their sheer ability on this EP. The first track, "No Atonement", consists of vicious riffs and unrelenting black metal while the second track, "History Vanishes", displays the other side of Dressed in Streams, a more contemplative and psychedelic sound, full of keyboard and noise flourishes and wailing guitars. Both songs are truly impressive, showing the diversity of the band while still being a coherent piece of music serving as a document of this bands potential, I'm anxiously awaiting what's next.
14. Lycus - Tempest (20 Buck Spin)
Lycus shook the doom world with their demo, and here on their first full length the formula stays almost the same. Crushing and mournful doom is what Lycus brings to the table but this is not a one dimensional album. The band throws in blackend bursts to keep the listener on their toes, violin to create an even deeper sense of sorrow, and a dynamic vocal delivery consisting of growls, screams, and chants. Lycus have lived up the the hype on this album showing that they are a formidable young band playing doom in an interesting new way.
13. Mitochondrion - Antinumerology (Dark Descent Records)
The ever turbulent and chaotic Canadian death masters return with only an EP this year. I would say that my only complaint (and why it is not higher on the list) about this album is the length. However, three songs still leaves Mitochondrion plenty of time to bludgeon the listener senseless in only twelve odd minutes. Full of twisting riffs, horrific vocals, and a willingness to experiment Antinumerology is a testament to Mitochondrion's ability to create a powerful record no matter the length.
12. Irkallian Oracle - Grave Ekstasis (Bölvark)
I had absolutely no idea this band existed before November of this year but once I head Irkallian Oracle's brand of black/death metal I was floored. The main thing that struck me about this release was the twisted groove the band finds through their riffs, a large portion of the record is played at a doom-like pace allowing the riffs to really seethe and morph into one another. With it's raw production this album is one of many examples this year of death metal being taken to new and exciting places.
11. Vasaeleth - All Uproarious Darkness (Profound Lore Records)
Once again a release that I wish were longer. Vasaeleth's first full length Crypt Born & Tethered to Ruin was a very influential album for me when I was first attempting to listen to death metal, the darkness of it had a profound impact on me and with this release they continue down that dark path and do not disappoint. Graced with my favorite cover art of the year this release is eighteen minutes of death metal madness with blackened tendencies. Unrelenting in their delivery O.A. and Antinom are playing death in a manner that is familiar yet completely invigorating and fresh.
10. Merkstave - Merkstave (Pesanta Urfolk)
My favorite doom release of the year comes as a rehashing of old songs by this Oregon band. A doom supergroup if you will with a lineup consisting of members from acts such as Hell, Velnias, and Elu of the Nine among others Merkstave creates devastating doom. Melodically tinged and nearly droning in it's delivery at times the album the most emotionally draining record I heard this year. The sorrow is pervasive throughout the recording perfectly encapsulating the feelings intended while performing funeral doom. A true triumph of a record, unfortunately it was released posthumously creating a very powerful farewell letter.
9. Inquisition - Obscure Verses for the Multiverse (Season of Mist)
When I first heard this record I didn't like it. It didn't strike me as powerful as Inquisition's past efforts. Thankfully I was wrong, after spending more time with the album I realized that the devil was in the details on this record. The main thing to consider when listening to this album is the melody, Dagon is an extremely skilled guitar player and this record is evidence of that. He also uses his croaked vocals as an instrument, warbling along with the guitars and drums. Incubus still brings the fury through his relentless drumming, his heavy-handed style is extremely distinct. Both of these musicians are frankly extraordinary in their respective duties and the combination of the two creates something utterly legendary.
8. Grave Upheaval - Untitled (Nuclear War Now! Productions)
A record without a title containing songs without titles is a bold move but this blunt disregard for conventions matches the music Grave Upheaval plays perfectly. Their delivery is nearly formless, their vocals are harsh and whisper-like or throat chants, everything about this release makes it just horrifying. By combining the murkiest of death metal and funeral dirge elements Grave Upheaval create something so alien, so unlike anything I have ever heard that after the first time I listened to this release I could not even comprehend what I had just experienced.
7. The Ruins of Beverast - Blood Vaults - The Blazing Gospel of Heinrich Kramer (Ván Records)
Alexander von Meilenwald has been creating some of the most captivating black metal ever to grace these ears for quite some time. Under the moniker The Ruins of Beverast this is Meilenwald's fourth full length effort and it may be his finest yet. Changing his formula from release to release has been typical for this project but this album is his biggest shift in style yet. Equal parts black, death, and doom metal the release is nearly eighty minutes long, an imposing length for any record especially for one so abrasive. Somehow he pulls it off, managing to keep the listener captivated throughout the excessive length of the album through the sheer diversity he brings to the table, the mixing of a multitude of styles can often lead to failure but Meilenwald succeeds here.
6. Bölzer - Aura (Iron Bonehead Productions)
Bölzer's brand of black/death metal is impressive in it's execution but that's not the only reason this is one of the most special releases of this year. Bölzer, in a sea of bands that sound like each other, bring a new sound to the table. Challenging the conventions in a way that makes their take on the style sound so unique and so vibrant it's astounding. Their riffs are progressive yet vicious, their drumming patterns are interesting and powerful, and their vocals are diverse: sometimes snarling, sometimes growling, and sometimes even howling. Combining all these unique elements into one cohesive piece of music creates a very dynamic album, one that I could not stop listening to since the first time I heard it.
5. Portal - Vexovoid (Profound Lore Records)
On this album the masters of chaotic and cavernous death metal went for a streamlined approach opting for clearer production (not especially clear but clear in contrast to the "vacuum cleaner" sound achieved on older releases). The clearer production does not hinder the album like I thought it would instead it makes the multitude of complexities perfectly audible for the first time. Portal, under all the murk, are an extremely technically proficient band, astounding really in their technical prowess. The album is still just as mesmerizing and mysterious as their past releases, their frantic riffing structures are still prominent and the harsh whisper-like rasp of The Curator continues to lead the listener ever deeper into the madness that is Portal.
4. Akitsa/Ash Pool - Split (Tour de Garde)
Heard this one late this year and for that I am foolish. A split release with two of my favorite bands playing in the rawer black metal stylings was unlikely to disappoint, and it definitely did not. Akitsa's side is first, bringing the raw black/punk sound they are known for, the riffs are in no way intricate or groundbreaking, but the way Akitsa makes the listener feel the power and pride they feel is what really makes their side an exciting listen. Ash Pool, the black metal side project of musicians who typically perform electronic/harsh noise in acts such as Vatican Shadow, Alberich, and Prurient, are next up on this split and provide some absolutely ripping black metal. Riffs ripe with fury blaze over blast beats and keys are thrown in occasionally for an added layer of madness. Both of these bands bring their best material date on this split making it the best split of the year and really one of the best releases as well.
3. Prosanctus Inferi - Noctambulous Jaws Within Sempiternal Night (Nuclear War Now! Productions)
Past Prosanctus Inferi efforts were good, no denying their brand of twisting black/death metal is impressive but on this release, their second full length, they achieved something new. On the surface this is a very standard black/death metal but by listening closely you can hear what makes this album stand out. Jake Kohn's riffs are so intricate on this release they writhe, full of hidden melodies, almost as if they are attempting to lure you in with something familiar but then unleash madness when you least expect it. The first track I heard remains to be my favorite on the album, the closer, " Seminal Moon Born Orgy of Birth" perfectly explains why it is so special. The sense of melody mixed with ferocity is what sets this album apart from most of what was released this year.
2. Antediluvian - λόγος (Nuclear War Now! Productions)
Antediluvian are the most interesting band I have ever come across. Playing the darkest and filthiest death metal imaginably their sound is one of pure depraved madness. The production on this album has gotten some negative reactions for being too raw and muddy but that's one of the main reasons I believe this to be Antediluvian's largest triumph to date. The extremely raw production suites their style of playing perfectly. Both of the guitarists play spastic angular riffs, the drummer Mars Sekhmet plays some of her most bludgeoning drums on this release, seeming to almost loose all control at times but managing to hold onto so some sort of warped rhythm. Over all that madness Haasiophis grunts and growls displaying some of the deepest most guttural vocals I have ever heard. All of these elements along with the raw unforgiving production of this album makes it unlike anything they have released or anything anyone else has as well.
1. Lake of Blood - Omnipotens Tyrannus (Cult of Melancholia)
From the first seconds of opener "Blood & Mercy" to the last seconds of closer "Reflect & Suffer at the Paw of Grace" this nearly eighty minute album captivated me. Lake of Blood's approach to black metal is unparalleled, the riffs are uncompromising full of pure aggression. Both guitarists Nodic and Samael are masters of the riff making them unrelenting but still holding onto a strong sense of melody. The drumming and bass work is also extremely impressive providing this monster of an album with a strong backbone. While this is a powerful release there is still a gnawing sorrow that makes it's way through the music, woeful melodies are present and the vocalist Haagr's rasp is full of desperation. Everything about this release just works, and it's exciting to see this relatively young band achieve this much with only their second album. The sheer majesty Lake of Blood creates is unlike anything else releases this year or really anything else I've ever heard. This is a humbling release, it makes one truly see what can be achieved in the realm of black metal. In the words of the band themselves melancholia binds us all.