September was so loaded with highly anticipated releases, I couldn’t keep up with the full-length reviews. So far, half of my top 20 favorite albums of the year were released in September. I figured I should at least give a nod to the others in a top 13 rundown.
This trio of awesome rock bands all released their previous albums in 2012, where they all made Fester’s Lucky 13. The past three years were well spent, as all three have exceeded expectations and are currently hogging the top three spots of the year in my list. Christian Mistress currently has the edge (possibly because my appreciation of the album was enhanced by seeing them live a few days before it’s release?), but it won’t be final until December.
4. Snail – Feral (Small Stone)
Snail’s latest is high on my list of favorites this year, nestled just under the mighty Ufomammut, Royal Thunder and Elder. Their thick, fuzzy sound is heavy yet laid back with a touch of blues. While they fit comfortably with their new label Small Stone’s roster of psychedelic stoner rockers like Wo Fat, Greenleaf and Dwellers, their melodicism and harmonies (the catchiness of “Smoke The Deathless” can knock you off guard) also evoke some of the better heavy rock and grunge from the early 90s. No surprise then, that the band did form in Seattle in 1992, and released their self-titled debut in 1993, but includes elements of the California desert rock scene, like a smooth ride from Seattle to the California desert on a 1977 FXS Low Rider. Despite reuniting for Blood (2009) and Terminus (2012), the band has remained a bit of a hidden treasure, possibly because they have not toured a lot. There’s really not much known about the band. Their claim that they “sadly succumbed to the ‘sex, drugs, and rock and roll’ lifestyle and eroded to the point of breaking up” seems a bit too tongue-in-cheek to be true. Most likely they’re some guys who’s ability to be road warriors are long behind them due to jobs and families, but their creative fires still burn brightly, to the point where they’re releasing their best album 23 years after first forming.
5. Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats – The Night Creeper (Rise Above) | Full Review
6. Iron Maiden – The Book Of Souls (BMG/Ingrooves) | Full Review
7. Grave Pleasures – Dreamcrash (Columbia/Metal Blade) | Full Review
Despite Uncle Acid’s slightly disappointing third album Mind Control (2013), anticipation was high for their fourth, and they didn’t disappoint. I saw their first U.S. tour stuffed in the back of an overcrowded, tiny club last year and didn’t really get to see or hear them very well. This year I saw them in a more appropriate venue, and they sounded great. Ah, bass! Hearing the full spectrum live gives my brain one more aspect of their sound to absorb, fill in the gaps left by their somewhat flawed recordings, and appreciate the songs even more.
I was a little nervous about the first Iron Maiden album in five years, when I heard it would be a sprawling, 90+ minute double album. That didn’t work out so great for Judas Priest on Nostradamus (2008). But happily, it soundly kicks the shit out of everything done since Seventh Son (1988), and it might even better. Many will disagree, but this is honestly the first time since Powerslave (1984) that I was not at all disappointed by a new Maiden album. Perhaps it’s lowered expectations and the excitement is still fresh, but I’ve been listening to it for six weeks and I still love it. I joined the fan club for the first time just to make sure I get good tickets for their tour next spring.
Grave Pleasures is the Finnish darkwave/post-punk band formerly known as Beastmilk. While I noticed a lot of metal musicians giving the previous album props at the end of 2013, I expected them to be wildly popular by now. I guess it’s not fashionable at the moment. That’s the loss of the lemmings.
8. Dungen – Allas Sak (Mexican Summer)
I thought the big psych release of the month would be Wand’s second album of the year. Their previous album, Golem, was bursting with fuzzed out psych prog potential. I figured the other album would be an opus that’s so great they couldn’t wait until next year to unleash it. Instead, it’s a much less ambitious set of relatively introverted tunes, many of which pay tribute to John Lennon. There’s some great stuff, but it’s certainly not their Flip Your Wig. It’s admirable to aim to be prolific as Ty Segall, but I hope they put a bit more thought and time in their next one. I also thought Dungen might get more ambitious, as they have seen progeny like Tame Impala reach audiences a hundred times larger. They had a bit of a breakthrough in the U.S. way back in 2004 with Ta det lugnt, but their music has gotten less accessible, digging deeper into prog and jazz, and continuing to sing in Swedish. That is a decision I can respect, which means I’ll get to have my mind blown by them once again up close and personal in a comfortably small club. They’ve been very consistent from Tio bitar (2007), 4 (2008), Skit i allt (2010) and their latest. Casual listens to non-Swedish speakers they can be interchangeable, but more intense sessions unveil their brilliant musicianship. Saxes, flutes and pipes might bring to mind Henry Cow and Jethro Tull, but they also rock in a far more consistent, satisfying manner. You just mind find yourself obsessively collecting all their works and playing them for days on repeat.
9. Horisont – Odyssey (Rise Above)
Originally considered a little brother band to fellow Swedes Witchcraft and Graveyard, Horisont already proved themselves to be a top tier band by their third album, Time Warriors (2013). Odyssey builds upon some of the proggy space-rock leanings of the last album, and finds inspiration in pulp sci-fi space sagas, but not as a cohesive concept. Yet even on the 10:46 opening title track featuring synths and long instrumental passages, there’s always some furious riffage around the corner like Yes beefed up with muscular solos worthy of prime Michael Schenker. Every swaggering guitar-loaded track triggers positive flashbacks to the likes of Rush, Thin Lizzy, Judas Priest and Iron Maiden, while the album wraps up with one of their most inspired, haunting creations, “Timmarna,” sung in Swedish, which hearkens back to their debut Två Sidor Av Horisonten (2009), based on their more Swedish oriented proto-metal and psych prog roots. From their earthy blues psych to space camp, they’ve mastered it all, emerging as a magnificent band who would be appreciated by Kadavar’s fans if they’d tour.
13. Julia Holter – Have You In My Wilderness (Domino) & Windhand – Grief’s Infernal Flower (Relapse)
Number 13 is a draw between two very different albums. Julia Holter is a bit if a departure from my usual musical diet. She had been messing around with experimental, art pop and chamber music for a number of years before getting some major critical recognition with Tragedy (2011). Since then she’s shown up consistently on year-end lists in the likes of The Wire magazine. Chock full of literary references and highbrow tributes to avant garde cinema and composers like John Cage, it’s like pretentious crack. But it’s also very listenable. I expect her latest to reach critical mass and make a stronger showing in polls and reviews more than ever. It’s mostly deserved, and definitely worth a listen.
Literate art pop doesn’t necessarily trump a band that can spray it better than say it. With Windhand, perhaps oozes is more appropriate, like fluid through cracks in a scabby wound. This is doom, after all, even if lead singer Dorthia Cottrell can capably sing to folky (but still dark, of course) acoustic music just as well as wail into the void. Their third album reflects a bit of Cottrell’s explorations on her solo album earlier in the year, as expected, along with more excruciatingly long slogs like “Hesperus” and “Kingfisher” at over 14 minutes each. Part of me hoped they would have gone in a more overt psych prog direction like Elder. Windhand do their own thing though, and they do it well, better than ever on their third album. And like staring at a black puddle of oil long enough, you’ll eventually hear a rainbow of colors.
Gold Class – It’s You (Felte) | Full Review
The Underground Youth – Haunted (Fuzz Club) | Full Review
Marvel – The Hills Have Eyes (Killer Cobra)
Dead Sea Apes – Spectral Domain (Cardinal Fuzz)
We Hunt Buffalo – Living Ghosts (Fuzzorama)
Slayer – Repentless (Nuclear Blast) | Full Review
Amorphis – Under The Red Cloud (Nuclear Blast)