The Monolith’s 2013 in review – part 1!
So, that was 2013. The first full calendar year of operation for The Monolith, it was twelve months of ups and downs on all fronts. The incumbent Pope resigned, Edward Snowden caused a major boo-boo by figuratively pantsing the NSA, the future king of England was born, Bayern Munich collected a domestic and European treble, and Nelson Mandela passed away at the grand old age of 95.
The end of the year is always a time of reflection, and in the musical world this is no different. You’ve no doubt seen a lot of lists going up over the past week or two. I’ve read a lot of them with great interest, and spent a good deal of time cursing how little time there is to properly listen to and digest all of the wonderful stuff out there. I’ve missed a lot, and I’m supposed to be a music writer, so I imagine a lot of you have too.
Still, I did manage to catch a good wedge, and of that, I’ve narrowed it down to a top ten (plus a few extra cheaty special mentions), which you can read below.
I don’t do ranking anymore. That’s partly because I’m the boss, and so I don’t have to if I don’t want to, but it’s also because I don’t feel it’s necessary; all of these records are exceptional, and even if you disagree that they’re the best ten out there, that’s fine, because they’re just my favourites; ten of the best, if you will. So without any further ado; release the balloons!
Ten Of The Best
Cloudkicker – Subsume
Since naming Beacons as an honorable mention in my first ever ‘best of’ list in 2010 over at Heavy Blog Is Heavy, I’ve kind of fallen off the wagon with Cloudkicker, the sublime bedroom project from Ben Sharp. That changed this year – but I still left it almost three months from release before spinning the record.
As far as groove-heavy instrumental music goes, it’s pretty much the pinnacle, and it has everything that made me fall in love with his earlier work; the driving atmospheric riffs, the crashing cymbals and tempo-shifting leads.
And if ever a piece of album artwork were to convince you of the beauty held within, this one is the exact cover of the book inside.
Coilguns – Commuters
When the year began, all three members of Swiss noise outfit Coilguns were also part of The Ocean, Germany’s premier art-metal band. As it closes, Hess, Nido and Jucker have all departed in some form, yet we are still blessed with their burgeoning project, which released one of the best noisey records 2013 had to offer.
Nido’s pedalboard is essentially a fourth member, but the force emitted from Commuters is still absolutely ferocious considering there are only two people playing instruments at any given time. It’s frantic, full-on and, more than that, hums with a sinister little undercurrent that is really intriguing.
Haken – The Mountain
In the past, when my friends have spoken about Haken as the future of British prog, I was a bit blase. I liked their last two albums fine, but I didn’t get the same reach-around everyone else seemed to. The Mountain has changed that.
The parts are all played to perfection, the layering is dense and rich, and Ross Jennings still sounds like an absolute dream – but something about all the parts in tandem sets the whole thing off. Quirky gems like “The Cockroach King” blend between prime prog like “The Path” and delicate tracks such as “As Death Embraces” to create a potent mix of all the right ingredients.
KEN mode – Entrench
KEN mode are rightly lauded in their homeland. Juno award winners for their 2011 effort Venerable, the follow-up was destined to be at least ‘pretty good.’
Entrench mixes everything that is good about noise rock, hardcore and the math genres, and boils it into a furious package, performed by a dervish of three rabid Canadians. You’ll have touches of Botch (including but limited to the cameo from Dave Verellen), a big Cave In-style riff, or something so flatly venomous you’re surprised it’s not a GAZA track – but it’s something very much its own thing, and you’ll not hear much else like it this year.
letlive. – The Blackest Beautiful
Enveloped in kinetic fortitude, packed with emotion, and galvanised with swagger and attitude, letlive.’s The Blackest Beautiful is 2013′s musical equivalent of beating off to Joy Division whilst staring down an angry bear with your brown eye – but without the inevitable sense of shame that follows finishing. That’s a rather disgusting way of saying that TBB is disgustingly good, and solidifies the band’s claim to the post-hardcore high crown left vacant since Glassjaw‘s Worship & Tribute. Passion, vitriol and are the name of the game here.
Mandroid Echostar – Citadels
Despite being released only a month or so ago, and being largely unheralded, Citadels is one of the finest prog releases you’re going to hear from 2013. It is one of those albums that contains a wealth of those bits; the bits the make you sit up and go “oh, that was cool!” or pull a funny face and start air guitaring.
Likened often to both Coheed and Cambria and fellow Canadians Protest The Hero, Mandroid Echostar are a little bit of both, but more than just that.
The Ocean – Pelagial
If I’m honest, I’ve barely touched the ‘as originally intended’ instrumental version of Pelagial. Simon and I did review both versions between us, but I couldn’t get past the vocal iteration of the year’s finest art-concept record, and so this dedication really goes out to Loïc Rossetti, at least in part.
Marrying two intelligent and intertwining concepts – the sonic journey to the bottom of the sea, and the philosophical journey into the human pyche – Pelagial masters both the lyrical and musical to the point where you feel you are filling your lungs with suffocating melancholy.
The Safety Fire – Mouth Of Swords
Without a doubt, The Safety Fire have built on everything that made Grind The Ocean a success and amplified it. All the essential ingredients are there – hooks, catchy lines and good old fashioned techy sinkers – but it’s just more. There is variety by the chum-bucketload, as well as a nice cameo from Between The Buried And Me‘s Tommy Rogers, and if there’s a more catchy three-fer than “Yellowism,” “Beware The Leopard (Jagwar),” and “Red Hatchet” that has been released this year, I want you to tell me.
The Safety Fire are the blueprint for new British prog metal, and this record is an utter delight.
TesseracT – Altered State
I’ve tried imagining a world where I don’t bum the ever-living fuck out of TesseracT – I’ve put both their Concealing Fate EP and debut album One in my best-of lists from previous years – but it just ain’t happening.
New vocalist Ashe O’Hara makes the difficult job of fronting this band completely his own. Dispensing with any growls whatsoever, you find yourself not caring in the slightest; such is the soaring majesty of Altered State. What’s more, Ashe’s voice fits this proggier style probably better than Dan Tompkins’ would have, and so where the band’s career could have stalled, it has instead kick-started by being flung off a cliff – to be carried on the updrafts.
Watsky – Cardboard Castles
There’s always at least one non-heavy album in my list, and this year it’s Cardboard Castles by San Franciscan rapper and poet George Watsky. If you weren’t already familiar with him, he gained national coverage last month for all the wrong reason when he dived from 3oft into an assembled crowd at Warped Tour UK – and it was so frustrating to read all the calls for his head afterwards, because doing dumb shit isn’t him – this is.
Positive, inspirational and with just the right amount of attitude, songs about pulling ugly faces and keeping your neighbourhood free of hipsters intertwine with cuts about our obsession with technology and getting over being an asshole. George is the level head of the YouTube community, and will only continue to get stronger.
(a prize to anyone who makes a metal cover of this song called “Djent In The Moon“)
Ten is a nice round number, so I’m loathe to break it, but here are a few others who have kept themselves in regular rotation throughout the year – some of them since the very beginning!
Chronographs – Nausea
I’ve had the pleasure of watching these guys evolve in real time, and with Nausea they’ve made a really strong statement. It may not be entirely indicative of where the band are in the latter half of 2013 – they’re working on some not-too-similar stuff right now – but it’s a good platform off which to build, and their 2014 could be very interesting indeed…
The Dillinger Escape Plan – One Of Us Is The Killer
This record is strong, and despite it not clicking with me on the same level as past efforts, you can’t deny its quality. There are some real stand-out tracks, and it’s another polished effort from the Morris Plains five-piece. Plus points include grossing out my day-job colleagues with a couple of the music videos, so there’s that.
Norma Jean – Wrongdoers
This is pretty much everything I want from a Norma Jean album. I don’t know what else there is to say, but it’s a bloody good time. Big openers lead into more big riffs, meaty choruses and huge payoffs that will make you chuck up your milk bong into your mates’ faces.
Revocation – Revocation
Tech-death has never been my bag, so I’d never given Revocation much of a chance, but there’s a lot of really cool stuff going on here. There are dips in to Every Time I Die-style song structure, good metalcorey riffs and rock n’ roll attitude – all combined with the usual exemplary shredding chops and discomfort-inducing death metal.
The Sun Explodes – We Build Mountains
Really great progressive rock has been hard to come by this year, but The Sun Explodes’ self-released has hit all the right spots. Anthemic, crushing, proggy and with a fantastic set of contrasting vocal styles – the roaring of guitarist Alex Adamson juxtaposed by the soaring majesty of frontman Dave Maclachlan in a fantastic package. Someone snap them up!
“I don’t know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve”
As I said at the top of this list, there’s a lot of stuff I missed completely, or at least didn’t get to give more than a few cursory listens, so here’s my planned listening for the Christmas holidays. It serves as a sort of round-up/here’s what others have strongly recommended/if you disagree, here are things I haven’t actually got around to.
An Autumn For Crippled Children – Try Not To Destroy Everything You Love
And So I Watch You From Afar – All Hail Bright Futures
Caligula’s Horse - The Tide, The Thief, & River’s End
Deafheaven – Sunbather
Defeater – Letters Home
Erra – Augment
Fleshgod Apocalypse – Labyrinth
Gorguts – Colored Sands
Pelican – Forever Becoming
Russian Circles – Memorial
Sigur Ros – Kveikur
Steven Wilson – The Raven That Refused To Sing
Touche Amore – Is Survived By
Thank you to everyone for all your support, readership, comments and general interest. Many thanks to everyone who has worked with us throughout the year – bands, labels, press and of course writers. I hope you enjoy the rest of the lists we put out between now and the new year, and have a great Christmas or whatever else you’re doing tomorrow.