It’s that time of year again. People are publishing lists left and right, touting their favorite movies, music and Cuban dance moves of 2013. And people are reading them. So I figured, “Hey, I have an opinion and a forum, so what the hell.” Here you go—my own list, with obligatory commentary, of the bands I spent the majority of my listening time grooving to in 2013. That’s time commuting to and from work, time running (literally and figuratively), time writing, time gaming and time just doing nothing but listening.
Now, let me qualify: Not all of these bands had 2013 releases, but they are all still together (fingers crossed). Most of these bands aren’t well known, but they are all well respected. And most metal purists wouldn’t necessarily categorize all of these bands as metal, but it’s my list.
Criteria? I don’t need no stinking criteria. These are bands I obsessed over, bands whose catalogues I spent hard-earned money to buy and that were worth every penny; bands that kept my neck muscles sore from headbanging; bands who wove lyrics that kept me coming back for more, pondering what they hell they meant but more so what they meant to me.
Fu Munchu: I probably logged more time jamming to this band than any other. For me, Fu Manchu defines stoner metal—a heavy rhythmic jam that grooves like a redlining 1969 Ford Mustang Boss 429. I was turned on to this band by a shopkeeper at Bionic Records in Orange County, CA. He mentioned a rendition of BOC’s “Godzilla” that he called “sick”—in a good way. I picked up Eatin’Dust in the shop that day and then spent years hunting down the rest of their CDs. (I know you can purchase music easily enough online nowadays, but I prefer to support independent music stores.) The great thing about Fu Manchu is their catalogue is filled with absolute gems from their oldest stuff to their newest. Word is they are working on a new release. 2014 is already looking up.
Ruby the Hatchet: Smoking hot, hard-rocking band out of Philadelphia, PA USA. It makes me smile that this band is baffled as to why they are embraced by metal fans. I guess it has something to do with when you were born. I mean there are people who don’t think Black Sabbath is heavy metal, but if you were born before a certain year—and I don’t know which year that would be—Black Sabbath is nothing but metal. Anyway, Ruby the Hatchet doesn’t have a lot of albums out, but they are all phenomenal. It may be hard to find their CDs, but you can always cave and find them on iTunes. They have several videos online and provide the backdrop music (“Paralyzed”) for a killer bike stunt team, Shadow Conspiracy, as they tear up the parks and public spaces of Calgary.
Triggerman: Jesusgod. There is just no justice in the world when a band this good isn’t out there doing major tours in the best venues across the world. Triggerman albums, even the ones you buy online, smell of ale and sweat; the physical CDs vibrate as they try to constrain the metal fury that lies within. Is there a better metal anthem than “The Riff Holds Sway”? Don’t answer, but please, please pick up Brand New Day or Hail to the River Gods, crank it to 11 and be prepared to have your mind blown. Triggerman delivers consistently good, hard-driving rock and roll of the heaviest kind. Every aspect of Triggerman is first class.
Cold in Berlin: Okay, not a metal band. At least not musically, but their visceral angst is born of the same stuff. This band has two albums to their catalogue—And Yet and Give Me Walls. If you have led a good life and have loads of good karma flowing your way, you may catch them in live in London sometime. CoB remind me of a mean and lethal Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Great stuff. The world needs more of this band.
Clutch: I think this gets me current as Clutch did have a 2013 release, Earth Rocker. I don’t know if I have ever retired a Clutch album from my rotation. By far, one of my all time favorite bands past and present. I’ve seen Clutch lay it down in the UK and the US from London to Chicago to Houston and they just rock. I have every one of their releases, including several rarities and DVDs. Blast Tyrant, in my estimation, has to be one of top five albums ever created. Earth Rocker doesn’t disappoint. The title track, of course, cranks and “D.C. Sound Attack,” with its salute to D.C.’s go-go music from the 1980’s and its critique of US politics from the present, is gratifying on many levels. Many awesome tracks on ER; many, many in their extensive catalogue.
The Sword: Another band I’ve seen multiple times and whose catalogue I’ve never tired of. They also had a 2013 release, Apocryphon. I love The Sword and one day they’ll be around long enough to re-release their first two albums and clean them up a bit. In the meanwhile, I try to make every show I can and witness the power of those early tracks played live and loud. One of the really cool things about The Sword catalogue is you can see how they mature and progress album by album. I mean their first album is great, but so is their last. They aren’t evolving into a better band—they are consistently great—they are exploring and growing their bandwidth, which is a blast to experience.
Barbe-Q-Barbies: Musically BQB are not virtuosos and lyrically they may be more akin to Kiss than Opeth, but they are a total blast to listen to. Personally, I liked 2012’s All Over You better than 2013’s Breaking All the Rules, but I listen to both of them . . . a lot. And you should to. Make some resolutions, get your life in line, buy some Barbe-Q-Barbies and loosen up.
Sirenia: I had to get a symphonic metal band in here somewhere and since Within Temptation doesn’t have a new release until late January 2014 and since Theatre of Tragedy has broken up (sigh) and since Sirenia did have a release and since I dig the hell out of them . . . well, there you have it. Perils of the Deep Blue marked Sirenia’s return to greatness since being mired in mediocre goodness with The Enigma of Life. Perils is simply a beautiful album—hard-rocking, precision orchestrations with the glorious vocals of Ailyn. Even the illustrations and supporting video are superb. The Sirenia catalogue, I should mention, is rich with opportunities for rediscovery. Go back and check out Nine Destinies and a Downfall or The 13th Floor—you’ll fall in love all over again.
Honorable mentions? Yeah, I’m not going there. There are loads of great bands out and I only have the patience to write about a few of my favorites. Wherever your groove lands you in the wide metal spectrum, just keep listening, support your local bands and visit your independent record shop.