Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Dodge's Top 10 Albums of 2013

Well it's list season! While top 10 lists are never a just means of displaying all the awesome music we've seen over an entire year, I can't resist an opportunity to talk about some of the incredible albums released in 2013. Coming into 2013 there wasn't a whole lot I was really excited about. Most of my favorite bands had released amazing albums in 2012; it was tough to see what was left for poor 2013. To my pleasant surprise 2013 was an incredible year full of new discoveries and killer releases by some old favorites.

Honourable Mentions

Chon-Newborn Sun (Prog Rock)

This 8 track long EP, while clocking in at a mere 17 minutes, is full of short but wonderful instrumental tracks. This album is just non-stop good vibes in the form of Mario Camarena's clean guitar playing. Chon has managed to form their own sub-genre before they can legally drink. Chon uses beautiful clean passages and the occasional mild distortion to create 17 minutes of prog rock heaven.

Misery Signals-Absent Light (Melodic Hardcore)

2013 was the year that saw some bands take the groundbreaking shift from record labels to crowd funding records. Misery Signals was one of the first huge crowd funding successes, with the band raising over twice their goal (raising over $100 000). Absent Light is Misery Signals at their best, the Canadian melodic hardcore titans have returned from a 5 year hiatus with what is nothing short of a masterpiece.

Skynet-The Wild (Djent/Hardcore)

As its name would suggest, this album is ferocious. Skynet are easily one of the hottest up and coming metal bands in Ontario today. The Wild takes the idea that you need complex music to make a good record and smashes it back in your face. Skynet first release under new label Underground Operations is heavy, in your face and will have you headbanging from start to finish. Skynet's Blake Prince provides one of the most aggressive and precise vocal deliveries in the industry. This record is full of great vocal hooks and it's all mixed in beautifully with djenty groovy awesomeness. The Wild is tons of fun to listen to and will have you rocking out until your neck falls off.

Mandroid Echostar-Citadels (Progressive Metal)

Mandroid Echostar continue to push the limits of incredible riffage with their second EP Citadels. With phenomenal guitar work and enough talent to make any musician feel incompetent, Mandroid Echostar provide the listener with an epic and awe inspiring experience. This being an EP is the only thing that kept it out of the top 10. Citadels is a diverse but consistently amazing EP that gives the listener a thousand reasons to love this band

The Top Ten

10. Altar of Plagues-Teethed Glory and Injury (Black Metal)

Alter of Plagues' final album is one of the best black metal albums to date. 2013 had two of the most interesting and awesome black metal albums ever released with new albums from Alter of Plagues and Deafheaven. Teethed Glory and Injury maintains a genuine black metal feel while experimenting with incorporating many new ideas into the somewhat stagnant genre. It's really unfortunate that this is Alter of Plagues final record as I really enjoyed the direction they were taking the genre. Teethed Glory and Injury is ferocious, very dark and yet unquestionably beautiful.

9. Tesseract-Altered State (Progressive Metal)

Altered State was probably the album I was most excited about at the beginning of the year, and I was not disappointed. Tesseract had been having problems since the departure of original vocalist Dan Tompkins but new vocalist Ashe O'Hara had people floored since the first single "Nocturne" was released in late 2012. While Ashe lacked the screaming element that had been a large part of Tesseract's previous album, he more than made up for it with epic soaring clean vocals.Altered State is full of monstrous grooves, beautiful vocal lines and prog-y awesomeness (there's even an epic sax solo).

8. Karnivool-Asymmetry (Progressive Alt Rock)

Until this year I was under the illusion that I didn't like Karnivool. For me it was one of those bands that you just hear the wrong song and assume all other songs are similar. The 2003 single L1FEL1KE had a very nu-metal feel to it and really failed to display the creativity of the Australian prog rock gods (and remains to this day my least favorite Karnivool song). However with the release of Asymmetry's incredible first single "We Are" I was completely sold on the band. I've had the wonderful and unique opportunity to fall in love with their three albums all at once; all three are masterpieces in 3 very different styles. Asymmetry is a euphoric progressive alt rock album, featuring some of the most unique and moody songwriting ever seen coming from a rock band

7. Last Chance To Reason-Level 3 (Progressive Metal)

LC2R take it to the next level with their final installment in the epic album trilogy (previous albums being named Level 1 and Level 2 and having connected lyrical concepts).  Progressive bands are constantly evolving, changing genre and providing a truly new experience with each album. Few extreme metal bands display that more clearly than these Maine, USA metalheads. Level 3, what is likely the band's final album, saw a drastic turn in the bands style, with clean vocals evolving from a rare occurrence to the primary form of vocal delivery. While this is bound to encourage thoughts of the band "selling out", this is definitely not that case. This is a clear and calculated direction the band wanted for the album. Lyrically Level 3 follows up Level 2's machine uprising concept with the story of a machine ruled world after the destruction of humanity. The machines rule the earth but begin running into problems that draw many parallels to the issues seen in humanity, from spiritual issues, to existential issues, to political issues this album is a brilliant metaphorical display of what it is to be alive in this complex world. Level 3 instrumentally is a blissful sounding progressive metal album, with a strong focus on the band's jazz influence and less aggressive prog-y tones. Level 2 was one of my favorite albums ever and Level 3 in a worthy continuation of the concept but somewhat lacked the intensity of its predecessor. While this post about the album might seem long, there's enough thought put into this album for me to write multiple essays. Last Chance To Reason's album trilogy is one of the best concepts ever and Level 3 is a beautiful end to the story (ending the final song with a quiet and sad "this can't be the end" and one of the most gorgeous pinch harmonics I've ever heard in my life).

6. The Ocean-Pelagial (Progressive Sludge Metal)

If this list was a contest of putting the most thought into an album, Pelagial would certainly take the cake. Pelagial began as a conceptual instrumental album, intended to be a journey from the surface of the ocean to its deepest darkest depths (I guess at some point in your career you might as well write a concept about your band name). This idea worked brilliantly with The Ocean's progressive yet sludgy style of metal, with early tracks on the album displaying the bands impeccable fast paced melodic guitar work and the later tracks displaying the bands slow but monstrous sludge style. The Ocean wasn't done there though, they had an album that could make this list as an instrumental album but with an unexpected speedy recovery of vocalist Loic Rossetti (who left due to serious medical problems involving his voice, it was thought he might never perform again) the band decided to officially release the album BOTH with AND without vocals. This lead to the album having a well thought out instrumental that stood out on its own, and vocals adding that human element. Apparently singing about the ocean getting deeper and darker wasn't much fun, so an entirely new lyrical concept was invented. The instrumental and lyrical concepts both add different elements to the album and are subtly connected, providing the listener with a concept album complex to never grow tired of and yet remaining very straightforward in its structure. Personally the 3rd track Bathyalpelagic (which is itself 3 songs long) falls right in the sweet spot for my metal tastes, featuring both blisteringly fast prog riffing and powerful heavy riffs. Pelagial is an epic and insanely well thought out album that has plenty for any metal fan to enjoy

5. The Safety Fire-Mouth of Swords (Progressive Metal)

The Safety Fire are a band like no other. Not only do the British progressive metal act have a very strange look for a metal band (wearing bright colours, playing custom telecasters and every member rocking a mustache) but their music stands miles apart from anyone else. While not every idea they experiment with is on this album is perfectly to my liking, the pros of their experimentation outweigh the cons by so much that it's tough to criticize anything this band does. Mouth of Swords incorporates both the happy and jazzy metal riffs the band had become known for and some of the bands most aggressive material yet (the intro of The Ghosts That Wait For Spring almost gave me a concussion from smashing my face into things when the song comes on unexpectedly). Also as a huuuge between the buried and me fan, seeing Tommy of btbam featured on Beware the Leopard had me ecstatic, his feature is incredible, if he was on every track I wouldn't complain.  Also, Peter Capaldi who started the "Fuck The Safety Fire" meme was selected as the twelfth Doctor this year, so now that meme is even more hilarious. Mouth of Swords is loaded full of power, technical skill and is possibly the most creative metal album this year. Fuck The Safety Fire, All hail the sloth king.

4. Dead Letter Circus-The Catalyst Fire (Alt Rock)

Dead Letter Circus had been living in the shadow of their fellow countrymen Karnivool since their formation. There's no question that Karnivool is one of DLC's biggest influences but to competing with one of the best rock bands on the planet, in their own country, in their own sub-genre, was no easy task. 2013 saw incredible releases from both Dead Letter Circus and Karnivool. The Catalyst Fire was a far more straightforward and easily digestible record compared to Asymmetry, leading many (me included) to actually prefer DLC's take on the sound that 'vool created. Comparisons aside, The Catalyst Fire is a futuristic sounding rock album that is packed to the brim full of talent, creativity, great songwriting and addictive vocal melodies. On first listen I realized this album was good, on second listen I was already becoming addicted, by third listen i went out and bough a hard-copy and my love for this album has yet to stop building with each listen. The Catalyst Fire is an unbelievably good rock album, with a solid dose of both familiarity and yet still creating a definitively new sound.

3. Counterparts-The Difference Between Hell and Home (Melodic Hardcore)

I've always been a big fan of Counterparts. Hailing from Hamilton, this melodic hardcore group puts on an incredible live show and has music jam packed with pure passion. However I've never thought of either of Counterparts previous two releases as anything too special. While both good records, I knew the band was capable of more from how much better they were live. The Difference Between Hell and Home is everything I'd ever dreamed Counterparts would be. With the addition of Kelly Bilan (ex-Dead and Divine) on drums, the band's songwriting grew exponentially better. This a phenomenal hardcore record, never compromising for the sake of being catchy and having the band's intense passion shine through. This record on its surface comes across as incredibly negative and as a relatively optimistic person it took me a while to get past that, but I'm so grateful I did. The Difference Between Hell and Home is a grim and brutally honest record that brings forth some of the darkest elements of humanity.

2. Protest the Hero-Volition (Progressive Metal)

Firstly, I looove Protest the Hero (I could recite every word from every song they've ever released), so their new album making my list isn't a huge surprise. However, there was a lot of uncertainty surrounding this album. As mentioned before, 2013 was a huge year for crowd founding and Protest the Hero's crowd funding was a phenomenal success (raising over $340 000). Adding to the pressure of departing from their long term label, the departure of drummer and founding member Moe Carlson left many PtH fans fearing the new album would not meet the quality of their previous releases. Chris Adler (of Lamb of God) was chosen to record and write the drums for this record, in what was possibly the strangest choice the band could have made. However despite the doubt surrounding the album Protest The Hero stepped up to the plate and knocked the ball out of the park. Volition is absolutely incredible, not only did Chris' drumming work perfectly but the Whitby, ON prog legends put out what is possibly their best written album to date. While Protest The Hero didn't exactly re-invent themselves, the general tone of Volition is very comparable to the last two albums, the return of Rody's growls and some clearly much more inspired lyrical material lead to a spectacular album. Volition is Protest The Hero at their best, with guitar riffs that'll make your head spin, bass playing perfection, Chris Adler killing it on drums, fantastic vocal melodies and powerful lyrical material.

1. The Dillinger Escape Plan-One of Us is the Killer (Mathcore)

Mathcore kings The Dillinger Escape Plan released their 5th studio album this year. As a fan of chaotic music, Dillinger releasing new music is a big deal, but I really wasn't expecting much from this album. Little did I know that Dillinger was about to release an album so good that their entire discography fails to compare. It's like Dillinger had been experimenting with different sounds with each album over their 16 year career and then finally sat down and decided to bring back every style at once and do every style better than ever. One of Us is the Killer brings forth everything Dillinger is capable of, from the straightforward catchy title track to the pure hate and chaos of tracks like The Hero of the Soviet Union and everything in between. Every song on this album brings something new to the table while still maintaining a very authentic Dillinger feel. One of Us is the Killer has something to make any Dillinger fan happy with tracks that could have been singles on any album the band has ever released. With fierce guitars, mind bending rhythms, and everything from catchy choruses to riffs that make me what to smash my face through a wall, One of Us is the Killer is without a doubt my favorite album this year.

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