January 4, 2014

Justin C's End of Year List

Written by Justin C.

When I was in high school, I was a pretty serious alto sax player. I auditioned for quite a few competitions--district band, regional band, honors band, etc. That meant spending lots of time in basement practice rooms in other schools, soaking up the aroma of sweat and emptied spit valves, spending a last few minutes trying to perfect some horrible, atonal piece of audition music I'd practiced for months, a piece that served no musical purpose whatsoever, but rather tested our technical limits with our instruments. I lost more than I won. There was an alto phenom in the next school district over, and he often talked to his saxophone. How could I beat a guy who could converse with his horn?

What I finally learned from all of the trials and tribulations is that there is no quicker way to kill the joy of music than to turn it into a competition. So what am I doing now? Compiling a list of the best music of the year. To alleviate my guilt, I'll at least forgo the actual rankings and present them as an unordered list.

Gorguts - Colored Sands.
Artwork by Martin Lacroix

There were some big releases in death metal this year, including Portal, Ulcerate, Immolation, and the long-awaited return of Carcass. All good albums, but in my humble opinion, none of them could touch the new Gorguts in terms of strange beauty and savagery. It didn't hurt that head Gorgut Luc Lemay was so nice to me in spite of my hack interview skills.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

Shining - One One One.

Saxophone! Jazz! Metal! This album is catchy as all hell, and it still has me running around yelling, "YOU WON'T FORGET!"

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

Deafheaven - Sunbather.

There was plenty of talk about this album, e.g., "It's hipster metal!" or "I hate the vocals!" or "I hate pink!" In the end, though, my abiding memory of this album is listening to it for one of the first times while driving far too fast down a backroad just after a rain storm, "Dream House" blaring away, making my cold, dead heart feel all kinds of feelings.

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Sandrider - Godhead.

A power trio in every sense of the word, Sandrider's second album delivers all of the gut-punching metal of their first release, while expanding their sound. Yeah, it toes the line between hard rock and metal--it's certainly less extreme than what I usually cover--but it deserves to be played loud and screamed along with.

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Batillus - Concrete Sustain.

Batillus mixed their sludge with a heavy dose of industrial for a sound like a sledgehammer. Like Shining, this one will get stuck in your head, and who doesn't like barking, "SUSTAIN AND DOMINATE!" at their coworkers? You'll spend a lot of time in Human Resources, but you'll also get uninvited from a lot of meetings.

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Botanist/Palace of Worms - The Hanging Gardens of Hell/Ode to Joy.

I was torn between this one and IV: Mandragora, but as excellent as Mandragora is, I think this split edged it out. It's hard to imagine someone doing a cohesive split with the bizarre and beautiful Botanist, but one-man band Palace of Worms pulls it off. This is a split that sounds more like a whole album.

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Altar of Plagues - Teethed Glory & Injury.

I was surprised to learn, in a comment thread on this very site, that this album was somewhat controversial. I couldn't imagine how one could overlook its brilliance, and I was saddened to learn so many people are wrong. Maybe it's a matter of expectations--Altar of Plagues kept only traces of black metal and mixed in industrial and grinding noises from outer space, but maybe I was also primed to like it because of the similar shift in Batillus's sound. Either way, this album haunts me. I won't go so far into crazy talk as to say it's better than Mammal, but maybe...

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Seidr - Ginnungagap.

Austin Lunn of Panopticon also has a doom band, Seidr, and their newest is simply brilliant. Expansive, immersive, and incomparable. Sadly, it's not buyable on Bandcamp yet, but buy the two-CD set. Just do it.

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Non-Bandcamp Metal Albums That Deserve Mention

Hail of Bullets - III: The Rommel Chronicles
Cult of Luna - Vertikal

Albums That Likely Would Have Landed on My List if They'd Arrived Earlier in the Year and I'd Spent More Time With Them

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Non-Metal Albums I Dug This Year

Zola Jesus - Versions
The Cave Singers - Naomi

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Is This Album Metal or Non-Metal? Who Cares Its Awesome

Alice in Chains - The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here

Best Bandcamp of a Classical Guitarist Who Happens to Write Reviews for Metalbandcamp

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

  1. Glad to see Seldr on your list. I got it late other wise it would have been on my list.

  2. Latest words from Mr. Lunn regarding Seidr on Bandcamp "We will have a bandcamp up soon...I just haven't had the time to make it yet"

    1. Good to hear. Really solid band. Their atmospheres on the the latest album are something I have not heard from other bands.