Best of 2013: The Albums

Well, that was it. We’ve been through a weird year musically. Especially in the Metal scene, the household names released subpar or even downright terrible albums – Megadeth’s ‘Super Collider’ is one disappointment I never got over – while the less familiar names sometimes came forward with surprisingly good albums. Examples will follow. Luckily, the Benelux Rock scene surprised us with an explosion of interesting releases, many of which following in my Best of 2013 list, but Ayreon and Arrow-Haze also deserve honorable mentions.

For those of you who wonder: the two titles leading this list have never been listed as a Kevy Metal Album of the Week. There’s a reason for that. First of all, I don’t want to publish any reviews here that might end up in Gitarist for the simple reason that they pay me, so they deserve the premiere. Also, both of these albums had reached me as promos long before the release date and received many a spin before their release. By the time they got released – and therefore the time justified for their reviews – I had other albums were regularly featured in that week. Both albums returned to my cd player amazingly often though!

And one more request to all bands: now that 2013 is over, can we please stop calling our albums anything including the number 13 now? Thank you!

1. Tamikrest – Chatma

Despite Mali being consistently tortured by conflict last year, their musicians released fantastic music. Vieux Farka Touré’s ‘Mon Pays’ was good, but ‘Chatma’ is one of the best albums I have heard in a long time. Like their Tuareg brothers of Tinariwen, Tamikrest creates hypnotizing Desert Blues. However, Tamikrest is younger and more energetic. Desert Rock may be a more fitting term. The swinging rhythms – with actual drums and not just percussion – and spectacularly interwoven guitar lines stand out on this album, but so do the compositions. The band takes a more experimental approach this time, successfully mixing their core sound with influences of Dub and psychedelia, creating a work of art that really should be heard by anyone. Regardless of what genre you like. It seems like Tamikrest has found their niche on this mindblowing album and since it’s only their third, let’s hope they will continue this brilliance for a long time.

Recommended tracks: ‘Achaka Achail Aynaian Daghchilan’, ‘Imanin Bas Zihoun’

2. Guild Of Stags – Ode To The Emperor

Sheer seventies Rock euphoria. Even though these musicians are – despite their relatively young age – veterans of the Dutch music scene, ‘Ode To The Emperor’ took me completely by surprise. First of all: I had never heard of British singer Michael Devlin, but he’s fantastic, sounding like a mixture of Robert Plant and Bon Scott, though slightly more melodic than you might expect from such a description, and his spirited, enthusiastic delivery is part of what makes the album so great. The other part is that it just sounds great. These songs are expertly written and the amount of variation is just stunning, with the band moving from AC/DC-esque stompers to Southern Rock inspired semi-ballads through massive epics with great ease. Also – and I can’t emphasize this enough – Bram van den Berg is the best drummer in the Benelux. Bassist Joost van Haaren and chameleon-like guitarist JP Hoekstra – it’s amazing how easily adapts to every song – are no amateurs either though. This is a must for fans of seventies Hardrock. The singing and moving will follow automatically.

Recommended tracks: ‘Too Long’, ‘Hit n’ Miss’, ‘The Burning Of Scarlet Liege’

3. Orphaned Land – All Is One

Both their message of peace and harmony in the Middle-East as well as Orphaned Land’s music has never been as direct as on ‘All Is One’. This is a pleasant development though. It makes ‘All Is One’ sound powerful and fresh, yet familiar. It’s still the irresistable mix of progressive Metal and traditional Middle-Eastern music in multiple languages, yet with a slightly different take on it. The guitars of Yossi Sassi and newcomer Chen Balbus sound just a little crunchier than before and Kobi Fahri focuses almost entirely on his fantastic clean vocals rather than on grunts. As for the message: listen to ‘Let The Truce Be Known’ while reading along with the lyrics. A truly mesmerizing experience. The bombast is still here, with the fantastic Turkish orchestra and choir, and every song is moving and goosebumps inducing. It really seems like Orphaned Land keeps on getting better and words cannot express how much I continue to love this band.

Recommended tracks: ‘Let The Truce Be Known’, ‘The Simple Man’, ‘Brother’, ‘All Is One’

4. Voivod – Target Earth

Long live the return of Voivod. This is easily the best comeback record of the year. Honestly, I wouldn’t expect them to return this powerfully after the death of the unique guitarist Denis ‘Piggy’ D’Amour, but Martyr’s Dan Mongrain took the challenge and passed with flying colors. The twisted, jazzy chords of D’Amour are all over this record, as is the compositional brilliance of Voivod’s best albums ‘Nothingface’ and ‘Dimension Hatröss’. So this is progressive Thrash Metal with distinct Sci-Fi elements. Complex, but menacing. As if Pink Floyd is playing Metal, with the psychedelic space lyrics being replaced by a post-apocalyptic nuclear wasteland. Every member is in optima forma here. Jean-Yves ‘Blacky’ Thériault’s bass sound blows everything out of the water and Michel ‘Away’ Langevin’s surprisingly relaxed drumming keeps everything together. Combine that with the fact that this is easily the best material the band has written since at least ‘The Outer Limits’ and the Thrashiest since ‘Killing Technology’ and we’ve got ourselves a winner.

Recommended tracks: ‘Corps Étranger’, ‘Mechanical Mind’, ‘Kluskap O’Kom’

5. De Staat – I_Con

For those unfamiliar with the band: De Staat is a crazy band whose sound is nearly impossible to describe. Imagine a mixture of Nick Cave’s early work with the wild eclecticism and craziness of mid-period Faith No More, Vaudeville melodies and electronic overtones. Sounds impossible? It probably is if you’re not this band. ‘I_Con’ is notably more guitar oriented than its direct predecessor ‘Machinery’, but it’s no less strange. The album ranges from almost unbearably loud (the awesome ‘Witch Doctor’) to surprisingly delicate (‘I’ll Take You’, which features the fantastic Janne Schra as guest vocalist) and everything in between. This time, the band does a better job than ever fusing electronics with guitars and the results are fantastic. You have never heard anything like this in your life and the next time you will is probably De Staat’s next album. Highly recommended.

Recommended tracks: ‘Witch Doctor’, ‘Down Town’, ‘Make Way For The Passenger’

6. King Of The World – Can’t Go Home

Those who think that Blues is somewhat monotonous by nature should really give ‘Can’t Go Home’ a listen. This Dutch Blues supergroup featuring former Cuby + Blizzards guitarist Erwin Java and fantastic singer/bassist Ruud Weber, who worked with Snowy White, takes you on a journey through five decades of electic Blues and treats every take on it with equal class, enthusiasm and energy. ‘Can’t Go Home’ swings, cries and sweats through multiple dance halls and smokey cafés before closing with the breathtaking, goosebumps inducing tribute to the late Harry ‘Cuby’ Muskee which is the title track of the album. And then you put it on again, because every song leading to that one is of equal brilliance. I don’t know if it’s Weber’s amazing sandpaper throat, Java’s loose and wild guitar playing, Fokke de Jong’s swinging rhythms or Govert van der Kolm’s awesome Hammond, but the combination is something that you should hear, no matter what kind of Blues you like.

Recommended tracks: ‘Can’t Go Home (For “Q”)’, ‘Bluesified’, ‘Better Leave While You Can’

7. Gov’t Mule – Shout!

Finally! Gov’t Mule consistently releases fantastic spontaneous Bluesrock ‘n’ Soul records, but ‘Shout!’ is easily their best album since the death of original bassist Allen Woody. The band jams with great passion through a collection of fantastically written songs. Even though Gov’t Mule’s records remain jam-heavy, the songs are recognizable, hooky and well sung by singer/guitarist Warren Haynes. Even the Reggae song ‘Scared To Live’ is fantastic this time – I don’t like the genre – and closer ‘Bring On The Music’ is just a piece of art. ‘Shout!’ contains an entire bonus cd with different singers interpreting all the songs on the record. Some of the songs sound like they’re written for the singer in question; ‘Funny Little Tragedy’ with Elvis Costello’s vocals sounds like it could have been the B-side to ‘Oliver’s Army’ and Dr. John really turns ‘Stoop So Low’ into a dirty barroom boogie. Be sure to revel in the festive atmosphere of ‘Shout!’; it’s a Rock ‘n’ Roll party!

Recommended tracks: ‘Bring On The Music’, ‘Funny Little Tragedy’, ‘Stoop So Low’

8. Queens Of The Stone Age – …Like Clockwork

Changing drummers mid-recording and a great arsenal of guest musicians haven’t stopped ‘…Like Clockwork’ from being Queens Of The Stone Age’s best and most focused album yet. Naturally, Josh Homme’s vision is strong enough to keep it all together, although the result has never been as strong as on this record. ‘…Like Clockwork’ is a dark, gloomy, eclectic and powerful masterpiece of an album with uptempo Rockers contrasting the desperate ballads and the surprisingly sunny sound of ‘Smooth Sailing’. This isn’t by any means the band’s most accessible album, but ‘Songs For The Deaf’ – which had some downright brilliant moments, but was wildly unfocused as an album – also granted the band an enormous audience. The consistenly high quality of the song material on ‘…Like Clockwork’ should bring them at least similarly sized crowds.

Recommended tracks: ‘I Appear Missing’, ‘If I Had A Tail’, ‘My God Is The Sun’

9. Stryper – No More Hell To Pay

First things first: ‘Sympathy’ is easily the best single released this year. Such a fantastic melodic Hardrock track! And the rest of ‘No More Hell To Pay’ is surprisingly good as well. This might even be Stryper’s best album yet. Michael Sweet has written a bunch of fantastic songs with strong melodies and infectious choruses. His voice is nothing short of fantastic either, even today at age 50. In short: exactly what one would want from Stryper. Secular fans may be happy to know that their religious message is a bit more subtle this time, but it’s really the music that counts and it’s truly worth hearing. With a greater variation in tempos, the album may have been even better – there’s quite a lot of midtempo work on the album – but I’d definitely take this over ‘In God We Trust’ any day. Even the ballad – there’s only one – is very well worth hearing this time.

Recommended tracks: ‘Sympathy’, ‘Marching Into Battle’, ‘Te Amo’, ‘Saved By Love’

10. Black Bottle Riot – Soul In Exile

Believe it or not, but we have excellent Southern Rock in Holland. Black Bottle Riot’s self-titled debut album was already a revelation of fantastic seventies inspired Hardrock. That is still the case on ‘Soul In Exile’, but the Southern Rock factor has increased and the songwriting has clearly evolved. Simon Snel and Mike Sedee can compete with the best of the Southern all stars, the rhythms are simultaneously swinging and stomping and all the melodies are incredibly catchy. ‘Soul In Exile’ sounds spontaneous and powerful and the band audibly has a lot of fun doing this. Any Rock album should have this amount of inspiration, enthusiasm and energy. And we – as Dutchies – should be happy we have a band like Black Bottle Riot walking around on our soil.

Recommended tracks: ‘Trying Too Hard’, ‘The Rocky Road’, ‘Soul In Exile’

11. Amorphis – Circle

Although Amorphis’ current lineup consistently makes amazing records, they’ve really struck gold this time. Maybe it’s the choice for producer Peter Tägtgren, but the band finds itself in slightly less familiar waters – this is still instantly recognizable as Amorphis though – pushing themselves to great heights. The guitars of Tomi Koisuvaari and Esa Holopainen – one of my favorite lead guitarists – have something of an extra punch here and the album contains some of the Finns’ most brutal moments in a long time. However, when the band gets more melodic, their true brilliance shines through. Singer Tomi Joutsen covers both sides with equal power. This Amorphis lineup can hardly do anything wrong, but ‘Circle’ and 2007 masterpiece ‘Silent Waters’ stand as modern day Metal classics.

Recommended tracks: ‘Mission’, ‘Hopeless Days’, ‘Nightbird’s Song’, ‘Dead Man’s Dream’

12. Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds – Push The Sky Away

Blixa Bargeld gone, Mick Harvey gone… Would Nick Cave still have something to offer without his two sound defining guitarist? Why did I even doubt that? ‘Push The Sky Away’ is another great record. Okay, there’s hardly any guitars here, but mad professor Warren Ellis’ wide array of instruments does the trick. Naturally, the songwriting does as well. ‘Push The Sky Away’ is a lot more moody than the exuberant ‘Dig Lazarus Dig’, but it’s not a piano ballad album like ‘The Boatman’s Call’ was. ‘Higgs Boson Blues’ is one of the best tracks Cave has ever been involved with, but every song here is worth hearing. There aren’t many albums this subtle in my collection, but Ellis and Cave are a hellishly brilliant songwriting duo and I hope they will be here to stay for a long, long time to come.

Recommended tracks: ‘Higgs Boson Blues’, ‘Push The Sky Away’, ‘Jubilee Street’

13. Dark Tranquillity – Construct

Dark Tranquillity must have realized that ‘We Are The Void’ showed them on the verge of stagnation, because the direction has been radically altered and the result is nothing short of fantastic. ‘Construct’ is influenced by Depeche Mode rather than At The Gates and as such, sounds like something of a logical follow-up to the band’s 1999 masterpiece ‘Projector’. The album is very atmospheric, the Swedes obviously haven’t lost sight of their songwriting. All the songs on here have a strong build-up and a face of their own. ‘Uniformity’ was an early favorite because of its resemblance to the classic ‘ThereIn’, but every song is worth hearing. Dark Tranquillity’s members have the unusual realization – for Metal musicians at least – that you can excel without being flashy. Not one band member outshines the actual song material: therein lies the beauty.

Recommended tracks: ‘Endtime Hearts’, ‘Uniformity’, ‘The Silence In Between’, ‘Apathetic’

14. Spiritual Beggars – Earth Blues

Now this was a pleasant surprise! With Michael Amott’s main band Arch Enemy growing increasingly stale and ‘Return To Zero’ being something of a subpar album, I wasn’t expecting ‘Earth Blues’ to be so good. Spiritual Beggars have truly reinvented themselves on this album. Especially Amott’s riffing has improved. Most of the Metal edge has been shed, really turning this thing into an organic retro record. Former Firewind singer Apollo Papathinasio sings better than ever and fits this record better than anything else he has ever done. His passionate Coverdale howl is really the piece that completes this puzzle. I have always loved Per Wiberg’s retro keyboard wizardry and the Ludwig Witt’s rhythms just swing. ‘Earth Blues’ has taken some time to grow on me, but once it did, it prove to be Spiritual Beggars’ crowning achievement. Fantastic retro Rock!

Recommended tracks: ‘Legends Collapse’, ‘One Man’s Curse’, ‘Freedom Song’, ‘Dead End Town’

15. Vista Chino – Peace

Kyuss…I mean, Vista Chino does what people would expect them to do: revive the days of Kyuss’ first two records. Okay, Josh Homme isn’t involved, but drummer Brant Bjork was always a key songwriter in those early days. ‘Peace’ is immediately recognizable as Kyuss, albeit the more straightforward Kyuss work à la ‘Green Machine’. Even the massive epic ‘Acidize…The Gambling Moose’ that closes the album is relatively simple in structure. And John Garcia simply never disappoints. If you love his voice like I do, there’s hardly any way to not enjoy ‘Peace’. The enjoyably familiar Desert Rock sound will do the rest. And for those who wonder: Belgian guitarist Bruno Fevery does a stellar job taking Josh Homme’s place. His looser approach to the band’s sound even brings in something refreshing.

Recommended tracks: ‘Planets 1&2’, ‘Dragona Dargona’, ‘Acidize…The Gambling Moose’, ‘Adara’

16. In Solitude – Sister

Another reinvention for the better. Sweden’s In Solitude always was a decent Heavy Metalband, but darkened their sound considerably for this third album with spectacular results. The Mercyful Fate influence is still there, but the Doom factor has increased quite heavily, giving the album a pitch black, almost old school Goth atmosphere. While it doesn’t necessarily sound like The Sisters Of Mercy, Fields Of The Nephilim or Christian Death, the vibe is definitely there, creating an almost frightening Horror sound close to what Black Sabbath was aiming for in their formative years. Even though there’s nothing truly original going on here, ‘Sister’ is a unique album. Combined with its simple, yet brutally effective artwork creating a little dark masterpiece that deserves to be heard by anyone except for maybe the faint of heart.

Recommended tracks: ‘Horses In The Ground’, ‘Sister’, ‘Pallid Hands’, ‘A Buried Sun’

17. Gingerpig – Hidden From View

Those of you who only know Boudewijn Bonebakker from his past with Gorefest may be surprised how well he fits the classic Rock fold. Or even moreso: what a fantastic singer he is. ‘Hidden From View’ is the second installment of his fantastic late sixties, early seventies Rock band Gingerpig and as a whole is a bit more streamlined than debut album ‘The Ways Of The Gingerpig’. That took some getting used to, but the songs ultimately reveal themselves as concise and well written. Bonebakker and rhythm section Sytse Roelevink and Maarten Poirters show themselves just as capable of more tranquil moments – such as ‘A Touch’ and ‘Oceans’ – as the harder rocking stuff. Sonically, this is a fantastic album as well. Recorded on tape, ‘Hidden From View’ has genuine sound that feels warm and trusted with a perfect place for every instrument.

Recommended tracks: ‘A Touch’, ‘Ugly Heart’, ‘Oceans’, ‘Pride’

18. Gorguts – Colored Sands

As surprising as it was that Gorguts was about to release a new album, but the true surprise is the quality of said album. ‘Colored Sands’ is the album the band should have released after ‘Obscura’. Although this album is slightly less insane than ‘Obscura’, but the complexity and atmosphere are there. The music on ‘Colored Sands’ is really dark, avantgardistic Metal with lyrics inspired by Tibetan culture and philosophy with Luc Lemay’s anguished bark and the occasional blastbeat by John Longstreth pushing this into Death Metal territory. The twisted dissonance of the chords draws vague comparisons with fellow countrymen Voivod, but ‘Colored Sands’ really displays a unique sound by an equally unique band. It’s good to have Luc Lemay and Gorguts back where they belong: in the outer orbits of Metal.

Recommended tracks: ‘Colored Sands’, ‘An Ocean Of Wisdom’, ‘Enemies Of Compassion’

19. Şebnem Ferah – Od

Despite being well-written, ‘Benim Adım Orman’ was an album I didn’t play too often. Şebnem Ferah’s voice was in fine shape as always, but I just like to hear her rock out a little more. ‘Od’ is another proof of why Ferah is Turkey’s prime Rock diva, along former Volvox mate Özlem Tekin, whose 2013 release ‘Kargalar’ was also her best release in quite some time. ‘Od’ is the better of the two though, with Ferah’s band – including Pentagram lead guitarist Metin Türkcan – being on fire (no pun intended; “od” means fire) and Ferah soaring on top of that. ‘Od’ rocks hard and even its ballads are extemely powerful. Just listen to Ferah’s spirited performance of the title track and you’ll know what I mean. It’s good to hear her voice on the riffy melodic Hardrock, borderline Metal tunes again though; that’s how I like her best. If you haven’t heard Şebnem Ferah, you don’t know what girl power is.

Recommended tracks: ‘Savaş Boyası’, ‘Ya Hep Ya Hiç’, ‘Kalbim Mezar’, ‘Girdap’

20. Bettie Serveert – Oh, Mayhem!

Bettie Serveert will Always remain legendary for their debut release ‘Palomine’, but if I’m perfectly honest, I like their later releases a lot more. ‘Oh, Mayhem!’ is another fantastic Indierock release – and I hardly ever use that adjective with that genre – with fantastic rhythms. Drummer Joppe Molenaar is a revelation, but the guitars of Peter Visser and Carol van Dijk are powerful and rock remarkably hard. Speaking of Van Dijk, her voice is every bit as awesome as it was when in the band’s early days. Those who have been with Bettie Serveert from day one may end up surprised by the lack of introspective moments – the amazingly atmospheric ‘Monogamous’ would be one of the few moments that can be categorized as such – but those with an open mind will respect ‘Oh, Mayhem!’ for what it truly is: a fantastic Rock record.

Recommended tracks: ‘Sad Dog’, ‘Receiver’, ‘Shake-Her’

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