Any time my year-end list starts with more than 20 candidates, it’s been a pretty metal year for me. That was the case for 2013, and I had a few tough calls on who would make the list, and even tougher calls on what order they’d make the list.
It was a year of comebacks, with great records from Suicidal Tendencies, Tom Keifer, Skid Row, Carcass and, of course, Black Sabbath. All made the list in one form or another.
It was a year of surprises as a couple of albums that I would have predicted to be neck and neck for my top spot slid down, while a couple of unexpected ones moved up. It was a year of two albums from bands named Queensryche — neither of which, it turns out, were really the best Queensryche album of the year. But more on that a little later.
So, without more blather, here are my favorite hard rock and metal records of 2013 (order subject to change) …
No. 10: PAMELA MOORE – RESURRECT ME: I’m a latecomer to this album, and I fully expect it to rise higher in this list. Moore, who performed the part of Sister Mary on Queensryche’s classic Operation: Mindcrime record, delivers a fantastic album in the vein of that release. So far, I haven’t found a song on the record that I dislike.
No. 9: PINNICK GALES PRIDGEN – PINNICK GALES PRIDGEN: This is a great, grooving and rocking record from an all-star project. Guitarist Eric Gales, King’s X bassist/vocalist Dug Pinnick and Mars Volta drummer Thomas Pridgen bring the funk and the heaviness on a collection of memorable numbers that will remind listeners of all of their previous projects, but has a sound all its own.
No. 8: SUICIDAL TENDENCIES – 13: I had pretty much written Suicidal Tendencies off before the release of this record. Main man Mike Muir has put together a great backing band for his psychotic rants and delivers shades of the band’s entire history from the hardcore punk of the early days to the thrash of the late 1980s to the funk metal of Infectious Grooves.
No. 7: CARCASS – SURGICAL STEEL: This may have been the surprise of the year for me. I’m pretty picky when it comes to death metal, and I was not a huge fan of Carcass the first time around. This comeback album, though, has just as much thrash as death, great musicianship and some incredibly catchy tunes. I still blow out my speakers every time “The Granulating Dark Satanic Mills” comes on (and no, I still don’t know what the numbers mean).
No. 6: SOILWORK – THE LIVING INFINITE: Here’s one of the few exceptions to the rule when it comes to double albums. I’ve always maintained that most of them have enough good material for one record, but Soilwork delivers one of the best records of its career in double album form. There is filler, but not as much as you’d think, and the songs here span the spectrum from blazing melodic death to dark and moody.
No. 5: OLIVA – RAISE THE CURTAIN: I would have bet the bank (if I had one) that the first solo album from Jon Oliva would top my list for this year. I’m an avowed Savatage fanboy, and Oliva has never done anything that I consider remotely weak. That trend continues with this somewhat interesting solo record. It contains the last unpublished music from his late brother and guitarist Criss Oliva, but also brings a great many other sounds to the table besides the metal that he’s known for. It’s a great progressive rock record, but the more I listened to it, the more I wanted something a little heavier.
No. 4: BLACK SABBATH – 13: Here’s another record that I expected to vie for that top spot, but it never quite made it there for me. Perhaps my expectations for this went beyond what it could possibly deliver. It’s a great record, and it hasn’t left my playlist since it came out, but I still end up feeling just a bit of disappointment when I’m listening to it.
No. 3: FLOTSAM AND JETSAM – UGLY NOISE: I thought the band’s last album, The Cold, was a really good comeback record. This one puts them back in full fighting form. Ugly Noise plays on the more progressive leanings of my personal favorite F&J record, Drift, but also thrashes with a vengeance. It’s a record that ranks among the band’s best.
No. 2: TOM KEIFER – THE WAY LIFE GOES: At the midpoint of the year, this was my favorite record, and though it’s slipped a bit, it still hits me pretty close to home. Much like my favorite overall record of 2012, Blackberry Smoke’s The Whippoorwill, this is one of those albums full of songs that I see a lot of my own life and situation in. It’s a very personal listen for me, and well worth the long wait.
No. 1: AMON AMARTH – DECEIVER OF THE GODS: So here’s an album that I didn’t expect to be in this position six months ago. I knew it would be on my year-end list, and probably high, but as the year went on, it kept pounding away at me like a brutal Viking warrior until I had no choice but to put it in my top spot. It’s an insanely heavy record with incredibly melodic songs, and that’s something that I can’t resist. From the chest-pounding “Father of the Wolf” to the doomy groove of “Hel,” it shows different sides of the band, and I never skip a track.
Philip H. Anselmo and the Illegals — Walk Through Exits Only: Though this record narrowly missed my top 10, it’s certainly the most interesting I heard this year. Dubbed by Anselmo as anti-music, the album is loaded with hooks while, at the same time, being very chaotic and jarring.
Death Angel — The Dream Calls for Blood: Another solid album in the resurgence of Death Angel, it proves again just how underrated they were in the 1980s.
Ashes of Ares — Ashes of Ares: Made up of former members of Iced Earth and Nevermore, this record sounds pretty much like what you’d expect — very melodic and dramatic thrash. It’s nice to hear Matt Barlow’s voice again without the specter of Jon Schaffer hanging around.
BEST EP: Skid Row — United World Rebellion, Chapter 1: Talk about a big turnaround. After a mediocre first album with vocalist Johnny Solinger and a downright awful second one, I thought Skid Row was dead and gone. Then, they unleash this five-song EP that, at times, seems like an extension of their classic Slave to the Grind record. Suddenly, I have a newfound interest in the band.
BEST SING-ALONG: “Angus McFife,” by Gloryhammer, from Tales from the Kingdom of Fife: Alestorm’s main buccaneer Christopher Bowes turned his attention to epic, heroic power metal with this project and gave me some of my most memorable musical moments of the year. My eight-year-old son and I enjoyed many rides with this tune blaring out of the speakers as we sang along at the top of our lungs. No one wants to hear that cacophony, but it was great fun and created memories that will stick.
BEST LIVE SET: Nightwish — Showtime, Storytime: Floor Jansen makes her recorded debut with the symphonic metallers and impresses immediately. She hits the highs of Tarja Turunen and has the rock ‘n’ roll grit of Annette Olzon. It’s just a fantastic performance all the way around.
BEST COVER: “Ain’t No Sunshine,” by Black Label Society from Unblackened: Zakk Wylde delivers a moaning, tough, but yet very faithful cover of the Bill Withers classic.
BEST QUEENSRYCHE RECORD: Pamela Moore — Resurrect Me: OK, I’m kind of joking, but not really. With two bands out there under the Queensryche name, it’s the vocalist who played Sister Mary on Operation: Mindcrime that delivers the record that most captures the spirit of that band. If pressed into picking one of the albums with the Queensryche name on it, I’ll go with the Todd LaTorre fronted version, if only for the tune “In This Light,” which is the best QR song probably since Mindcrime.
Looking at the list of albums due out in 2014, it could be another good year for hard rock and metal if even half of these pan out. Here are the releases I’m most looking forward to.
Iced Earth — Plagues of Babylon (January): Man, I keep on hoping. For me, Jon Schaffer has kind of made a mess of Iced Earth with the canning of Tim Owens, the return of Matt Barlow, the departure of Barlow again and the hiring of Stu Block. Dystopia had some great songs on it (including the incredible “Anthem”), but it just didn’t connect with me like the band’s earlier albums.
Annette Olzon — Shine (February): Will Olzon shine outside of Nightwish? We’ll soon see.
Down (February): Though Phil Anselmo says the next EP installment of Down IV will be out by February, it remains untitled and without a release date. Things have a way of changing with Down.
Black Label Society (April): It’s been a long time since we’ve heard new music from Wylde and Co. Here’s hoping the long wait will produce another record as good as 2010′s Order of the Black.
Metallica: Will it happen this year? Band members say so. I’ll believe it when I see it.
Judas Priest: Originally rumored for a release as early as late 2013, a new Priest record will most likely see light this year. I’m hoping for a recovery from the disappointing Nostradamus.
Iron Maiden: OK, I’m not sure if I really have a lot of anticipation considering their recent history, but it’s still Maiden, so I have to give the benefit of the doubt.
Sebastian Bach (spring): Bach is working with Guns ‘n’ Roses bassist Duff McKagan and guitarists John 5 (Rob Zombie, Marilyn Manson) and Steve Stevens (Billy Idol) for the follow-up to the surprisingly good Kicking and Screaming.
Anthrax: Who would have thought I’d be looking forward to a new Anthrax album with Joey Belladonna? They proved me wrong with Worship Music, though, so I look forward to hearing new stuff.
Armored Saint (fall): I could get the best of both worlds, though, with some new music from John Bush, too. There have been hints of a new Armored Saint record in the fall.
Blind Guardian — A Sign of Hope (TBA): Singer Hansi Kursch says the work is coming well, and a title has been announced. We’ll see.
Body Count — Manslaughter (TBA): This one intrigues me. I was a fan of the early work from Ice-T’s metal outfit, but after a long break and the loss of numerous original members to leukemia (drummer Beatmaster V), cancer (guitarist D-Roc) and violence (bassist Mooseman), I wonder if they can recapture that.