In a taxi after the High on Fire show a few weeks ago, I accidentally listened to “Sound Opinions,” the radio skit show where Greg Kot and Jim DeRogatis say platitudes about rock and roll to each other. It’s a pretty amusing parody of music criticism. In the skit I heard, they pretended that there were still fans of popular music who needed to be persuaded of the importance of the Velvet Underground, so DeRogatis offered a Lou Reed primer (which, in a sly touch, he mispronounced to rhyme with “timer”). The whole thing reminded me why, as much as I love rock and roll, sometimes I hate rock and roll.
It is in this hateful spirit, then, that I offer the following list of the top ten metal albums that annoyed me the least in 2013. Feel free to contribute your own year-end lists in the comments, because I never read the comments.
10. Lycus, "Tempest" (20 buck spin)
Twenty-minute long songs annoy me on principle (except in jazz, where they sometimes annoy me, just not on principle), but these Oakland sludge merchants dredge up a lot of pretty stuff from the muck. In fact, what with the soaring guitar melodies and the occasional breaks into black-metal gallop, this record puts the fun in funeral doom! Ha ha, OK, I’m sorry, fuck off.
9. Noisem, "Agony Defined (a389)
Noise annoys, hell awaits, and the kids are all riled up. What if the early Beastie Boys had been really into early Slayer? I’m just asking. Meanwhile, these Baltimore teens are carving pentagrams into your lawn, dad.
8. Melt-Banana, "Fetch" (a-zap)
If this album doesn’t annoy you sometimes, it’s not doing its job. There’s an awful lot of beeping going on here. Noisy Japanese pancakes at their abrasive loveliest. Play it loud and freak out the cat.
7. Oranssi Pazuzu, "Valonielu" (20 buck spin)
Initially, I was annoyed that this Finnish space ritual is layered with electronics that would have sounded retro on the first Chemical Brothers joint. Now I see that’s part of its genius. Imagine a collaboration between Nine Inch Nails and Hawkwind. This doesn’t sound anything like that, but it’s the best I could do. (One song kind of sounds like Geffen-era Sonic Youth, though, which is OK with me.)
6. Gorguts, "Colored Sands" (season of mist)
This Quebecois death-metal institution’s comeback is a concept record—about a lion who leads some English children into battle against an ice queen, I think—so of course it’s annoying. Also it has a mid-album “classical” piece that is at least as daring as any soundtrack Danny Elfman has scored. But you can ignore the concept and skip the soundtrack. The rest of this meaty, beaty, big bounciness is crammed to the corners with riffy nuance.
5. Subrosa, "More Constant Than The Gods" (profound lore)
This Utah band is said to play doom metal, but I hear something much more expansive than that label suggests. You got Fairport Convention in my Sabbath! It can be annoying that almost every song goes on for over ten minutes (sometimes less is lots, guys), but there’s, like, sublimity in these haunted hooks, or some shit. I swear the end of “Ghosts of a Dead Empire” reminds me of Low.
4. Purson, "The Circle and the Blue Door" (metal blade)
You know what annoys me about this record, is how so many critics have to point out that it’s “not metal.” What are you, the genre cops? Go listen to Pantera. Witchy English perfection here, folks, especially on “Spiderwood Farm” and endlessly catchy closer “Tragic Catastrophe,” about a man who plays “guitar so convincingly tonight.” Plus singer/guitarist Rosalie Cunningham’s alto makes me want to have babies all over the floor. Bonus points for titling a song “Leaning on a Bear.”
3. Kvelertak, "Meir" (roadrunner)
Norwegian rawk, whoda thunk. The only thing that annoys me about this hunky slab of hooks is that the first five songs and the last one are absolute killers, while the five in between are merely good. Also I bought one of their shirts when I saw them open for High on Fire (actually I missed them because I was talking about Hilton Als in a hot dog joint across the street, but High on Fire were great) and it has a really spooky owl on it.
2. Carcass, "Surgical Steel" (nuclear blast)
I’m annoyed that it took me so long to recognize how good these Limey death lifers’ comeback record is. It’s so good, you guys! But finally the album clicked, especially “Noncompliance to ASTM F899-12 Standard” (try saying that five times fast), with its twin guitar-snakes entwining the trellises of my black, black soul as Jeff Walker growls about “the way of all flesh,” and “The Granulating Dark Satanic Mills” (that’s Samuel Butler followed by William Blake, if you’re keeping score at home; told you the Brits have better schools). Dance like Maiden, sting like a blast beat.
1. Inquisition, "Obscure Verses for the Multiverse"
There is nothing annoying about this astrobiological masterpiece.
N.B. Corsair’s self-titled debut on Shadow Kingdom is actually a re-release. It landed on my Pazz & Jop ballot last year. It’s way, way better than any record I heard this year besides Inquisition’s.
Other records that didn’t annoy me too much this year:
Amon Amarth, "Deceiver of the Gods"; Atlantean Kodex, "The White Goddess"; Black Star Riders, "All Hell Breaks Loose"; Blood Ceremony, "The Eldritch Dark"; Darkthrone, "The Underground Resistance"; Eibon la Furies, "The Immoral Compass"; Ghost, "Infestissumam"; Grave Miasma, "Odori Sepulcrorum"; High on Fire, "Spitting Fire Live"; Hot Lunch, "Hot Lunch"; In Solitude, "Sister"; Inter Arma, "Sky Burial"; Jess & the Ancient Ones, "Astral Sabbat"; KEN Mode, "Entrench"; Nails, "Abandon All Life"; Portal, "Vexovoid"; Russian Circles, "Memorial"; Shining, "One One One"; Skeletonwitch, "Serpents Unleashed"; Tribulation, "The Formulas of Death"; Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats, "Mind Control"; Voivod, "Target Earth."
Michael Robbins is interested in hearing about your band.