I’m a metalhead, and these are all five great albums released by bands this year that I’ve been listening to since high school (which was 22 years ago.) Some are comeback albums by long-defunct bands that got back together (like Carcass and Broken Hope), and one is another great milestone from a band that just CAN’T seem to release a bad album (Amorphis).
1. Amorphis – Circle
Amorphis’ ELEVENTH album (and fifth in the last 7 years) is another masterpiece from the Finnish masters of folk metal. This band just never lets you down. With the catchy riffs, soaring choruses, heaviness; Circle is just altogether bursting with FEELING, and is by far the best album of the year. A kind of departure in sound in contrast to the last four albums, Amorphis is always changing into something a little different. And they ALWAYS pull it off and make themselves something even greater. Already great, Amorphis is a band that just gets better and better. Circle is perfect, and sometimes I listened to this album several times a day for months straight. The album is epic, the songs stay with you, and are worth listening to over and over again. My favorite tracks include “Hopeless Days”, “Shades of Grey”, “Into the Abyss”, “Enchanted by the Moon”, and the iTunes-only bonus track, “New Song”.
2. Carcass – Surgical Steel
One of the best British death metal bands of all time, it was sad when Carcass broke-up (seemingly for good) in 1996. No one EVER thought they would make another album again. And even when they did a few reunion tours starting back in 2007, we STILL never thought we would get another album. News of this happening a couple years ago was the most exciting metal news I had heard in years. And unlike Morbid Angel’s long-awaited new album a few years ago – this one doesn’t fucking suck. Surgical Steel is Carcass’ first new album in almost 18 years, and only their sixth overall. It sounds perfectly like old Carcass; almost like a mix between their best album, Necroticism: Descanting the Insalubrious, and their most popular album, Heartwork. The whole thing shreds. Some of the song titles seem a little… ridiculous though. “The Granulating Dark Satanic Mills”? “Cadaver Pouch Conveyor System”? “Captive Bolt Pistol”? OK, whatever, I’m just happy Carcass is back, and hope they do a shitload of new albums from this point on.
Oh, and the new drummer rules. Thought they couldn’t pull it off without Ken Owen, but they did. And rock star guitarist Michael Amott, who rejoined for the reunion tours but was too busy to do the new album, isn’t even missed.
3. Broken Hope – Omen of Disease
Another great comeback album from a long-defunct band that suddenly got back together, started doing shows again, and also said they were doing a new album. Thank fucking god. A personal favorite death metal band of mine from the ‘90s; Broken Hope was a little underrated, but one of the most brutal death metal bands on the scene. Joe Ptacek’s growls were the deepest vocals out there. When Broken Hope had broken up in 2001, there was little hope (hahaha) that they would ever get back together. Guitarist Jeremy Wagner, who you could consider the heart of the band, approached Joe to try to get the band back together several years later, but he sadly committed suicide in 2010. But Jeremy still pulled it back together, recruiting original bassist Shaun Glass, a new drummer, 2nd guitarist, and a great growler from the band Gorgasm – Damian Leski. Omen of Disease is sheer brutality; with breakneck speed, catchy riffs, and amazing leads. Damian’s vocals fit, and the band has never sounded better. Especially live. Broken Hope in concert was BY FAR my favorite live band performance of 2013, and they blew Deicide off the fucking stage.
Omen of Disease is Broken Hope’s sixth album, and first one in 13 years.
4. Suffocation – Pinnacle of Bedlam
Suffocation, the legendary New York death metallers, came back this year with a vengeance. After a very boring album (2009’s Blood Oath), and a horrible-sounding self-titled album (2006’s Suffocation), it was a relief to see them get back to being not just brutal, but fast and insane again. I think it’s due in part to the return of drummer Dave Culross, probably the greatest death metal drummer of all time. His drumming on their 1998 Despise the Sun EP and several Malevolent Creation albums are bar none. When I heard longtime drummer Mike Smith left due to “musical differences”, I had a feeling the band would be better again. Pinnacle of Bedlam is classic Suffocation – fast, brutal, heavy, and with Frank Mullen’s trademark and never-changing death metal growls. Frank is only an active touring member of the band part-time now, and I was lucky to see him with the band in Portland this year the night after he just flew in to Seattle to join the tour for a while. He’s got to be one of my favorite performers of all time, and he’s a lovable personality and great vocalist.
Pinnacle of Bedlam is only Suffocation’s 7th album in their 23 years of existence. But there WAS a big gap between 1995-2004, when they only released one EP and then broke up for five years.
5. GWAR – Battle Maximus
GWAR is THE band that got me into metal, all the way back in 8th grade when I got their second album, Scumdogs of the Universe, for Christmas. It changed my life. I loved every album that followed in the ‘90s, no matter how goofy they became. That was the GWAR I loved. But with many critics saying that GWAR was only good for their bloody and theatrical live show, and not their music, GWAR decided to drastically change their musical style to become a heavier and more straightforward metal band starting with 2001’s Violence Has Arrived. I actually DID like that album, but after that, it was straight downhill for me. Whatever I used to love about GWAR was sorely missing from the next four albums – 2004’s War Party, 2006’s Beyond Hell, 2009’s Lust in Space, and ESPECIALLY 2010’s Bloody Pit of Horror. After tragically losing a “new” member that did a lot of songwriting in the band, I was hopeful GWAR would start sounding like they used to again. I was right – Battle Maximus is still the new heavy and metal version of GWAR, but this time with the catchy songwriting and fun that used to make GWAR, well… GWAR to me. Love the whole album. And songs like “Nothing Left Alive”, “Raped at Birth”, and “Triumph of the Pig Children”, among many others, kind of have the feeling to them that GWAR had on their albums in the ‘90s. Great stage show this year too. And by the way, I mainly go for the music.
Battle Maximus is GWAR’s milestone 13th album, but I really consider it their 9th.
Well, that’s it for my top five. It was altogether a great year for metal, especially if you’re an old school fan of the amazing scene we had back in the ‘90s. And if I had done a top ten it would be rounded off with these five remaining albums: 6. Rotting Christ – Kata ton Daimona Eaytoy, 7. Soilwork – The Living Infinite, 8. Spiritual Beggars – Earth Blues, 9. Immolation – Kingdom of Conspiracy, and 10. Kataklysm – Waiting For the End to Come.
And on a final note – I was disappointed by Gorguts’ new comeback album, the long-awaited Colored Sands. Never officially broken up, it was their first album in 12 years. I thought it was boring, slow, overly-technical, the blast beats were few and far between, the songs were too long, and they all kind of sounded the same.
And Deicide also had another in a long series of BORING, LAME, CRAPPY albums with In the Minds of Evil. I really wanted to like this one, but everyone knows that the great Deicide of the ‘90s is long, long gone.
Til next year, -Vince Kramer, 11/30/2014, 11:40AM