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There were some great independent releases put out in 2013. Here are ten of the best!

The Monolith Reviews 2013 independent releases

Byzantine_Self-Titled_album_artByzantine – Byzantine

Released 26th February

After a five year hiatus, 2013 saw Byzantine come roaring back with this crowd-funded, eponymous album.

The band returned sharper and hungrier than ever, delivering a pleasingly solid nine tracks of straight-up, no-nonsense heavy metal that requires no additional sub-genre quibbling to describe.

Byzantine is 45 minutes of finely honed metal characterised by furious riffery, pummeling double-kick and some fairly conclusive proof that guitar solos don’t have to be tediously self-indulgent.

Cyclamen - AshuraCyclamen – Ashura

Released 13th October

From the mind of Japanese musician Hayato Imanishi, Ashura is the second in a thematically-linked trilogy of planned releases from the project, which began with 2011′s Senjyu.

The album is an aural assault from the word go. Ashura is a war god within the Japanese pantheon, and as you might imagine, this translates into a dramatically more aggressive, caustic approach from the composer.

It’s hard not to speak of Cyclamen in the same breath as seminal countrymen Envy, and Ashura surely evokes the spirit of their earlier albums A Dead Sinking Story and All The Footprints You Ever Left And The Fear Expecting Ahead. The final track does take a more post-rocky slant – a genre with which Hayato is more than familiar, as he also helms Withyouathome – and it’s nice to have a bit of crossover, as the genres work well in contrast to one another.

With vocals entirely in Japanese, non-speakers are left to conjure meaning themselves (unless you have the recently released English translation of the lyrics), which is often quite nice. Whereas European languages are somewhat easier for each other to decipher, Japanese is completely alien to most, and Hayato is shrewd in being one of the few Japanese metal artists to actively promote himself in the ‘West’ – or at least one of the more successful.

Mandroid Echostar - CitadelsMandroid Echostar – Citadels

Released 13th November

Having reviewed Citadels very recently, and then picked it as one of my favourite ten releases of the year overall, there’s not much more I can say about the mini-album without repeating myself. Mixing all the best bits of Coheed and Cambria and Protest The Hero, it furrows forwards into its own territory, with seven sublime songs chock full of progressive patterns, sublime solos and a plethora of memorable hooks and sinkers that make it stick in your head for days to come.

Special commendation goes to acoustic opener “A Death Marked Dream,” which makes a spectacle of vocalist Michael Ciccia’s beautiful pipes.

Nordic Giants Build Seas Dismantle Suns EP double artNordic Giants – Build Seas/Dismantle Suns

Released 1st October/30th October

It’s perhaps a bit of a cheat to include these together, as they’re technically two EPs, but they were only released a month apart, and also technically one of those tricky ‘double release’, so I don’t feel so bad about shoehorning it in. Not that I would anyway. Shut up.

Nordic Giants have been a bit of a revelation for The Monolith’s staff this year. Since Simon caught their unique and enthralling live performance at ArcTanGent festival in the summer, a few of us have come to adore their entire existing catalogue – so that they’ve since released these two gems to round out the year is just a cherry on the cake.

Utilising a number of talented guest vocalists – both male and female – they take the grandest tenets of the post-rock genre and condense them from 10+ minute epics into tracks of half that length, but which are no less powerful. Miss Build Seas/Dismantle Suns at your peril.

Plini - Sweet NothingsPlini – Sweet Nothings

Released 11th October

Everything about this release is pretty. From the simple but considered artwork, through the four warm, twinkly tracks, to even the project’s name – this is almost a perfect little 17-minute snapshot of a release, and promises great things from the young Australian multi-instrumentalist.

Sweet Nothings is progressive rock at heart, that uses some contemporary metal stylings to great effect – particularly the returning acoustic guitar.

The title track, which closes the EP, is just sublime, and with a collaboration with Sithu Aye also out in 2013, and hopefully more in the next year, things are bright for this talented musician.

Protest The Hero - VolitionProtest The Hero – Volition

Released 29th October

Is Volition really an independent release? Its inclusion was debatable, but despite signing three distribution deals with Razor & Tie, Sony Music and Spinefarm, the fundraising element of the album was handled entirely by the band – and surely worked far better than even they could have hoped, with almost three times the amount they initially scoped for being raised.

The album itself is not wildly different from any of their previous releases, but more an amalgm of the three. Kezia fans will be as happy as those who love Scurrilous, and whilst progression is always nice, this is incredibly polished, and for the money sunk into it, probably the most professional.

Returning We Hear The Larks - Far Stepper Of Wide Sea

Returning We Hear The Larks – Far Stepper/Of Wide Sea

Released 25th June

This release is somewhat bittersweet, as it’s the last from the WHTL project – AKA lone British multi-instrumentalist Jak Noble. Besides a swathe of EPs, Jak has produced just two full-length albums, and knowing this would be the last, he’s clearly put his all into it.

Named for the famous poem by First World War soldier Isaac Rosenberg, Returning We Hear The Larks’ output has mostly dealt with British history, including the English Civil War and both World Wars, but on Far Stepper/Of Wide Sea he steps outside this remit and delves into Greek mythology – specifically that of the three Gorgons, and the legend of Perseus, who slew Medusa. It’s a fascinating area of legend anyway, and one of the most widely-known – no thanks to the gods-awful Clash Of The/Wrath Of The Titans movies of recent years – but Jak intertwines his sparse storytelling with masterfully crafted atmospheric metal.

There’s a low of great use of the bass guitar, which carries a lot of the songs along – look out for the opening track in particular – and aside from the guitars and piano, he uses a fairly limited palette compared to previous releases, but it works really well. His own growled and snarled vocals intertwine with a more delicate female voice, as well as spoken word sections which carry the narrative along.

In all honesty, I really should have mentioned this album in my year-end best-of list, but I had forgotten how engrossing it is, so consider this recompense – take a listen and fall in love.

Sleepers Awake - TranscensionSleepers Awake – Transcension

Released 17th June
This Ohio-based quartet’s second album Transcension is a richly immersive prog-metal journey that displays some exemplary musicianship and mature songwriting.
Taking elements from Mastodon, Tool and even Opeth, the intricate song structures carry the listener along a dynamic path that takes in moments of heart-stopping beauty and adrenaline-pumping aggression.
Transcencion is a dense work that packs in more good ideas than many bands can manage in an entire career.

The Sun Explodes - We Build MountainsThe Sun Explodes – We Build Mountains

Released 22nd July
With their second album, this Carlisle quintet have delivered a short, sharp burst of exuberant progressive metal.
Managing to be interesting and technical without being fussy or awkward, We Build Mountains marries jagged riffs to soaraway vocal harmonies.
Delicate and brutish in equal measure, the six full tracks on offer here are almost guaranteed to leave the listener hungry for more.

Vernon Wayne - JazzesVernon Wayne – Jazzes

Released 15th July

That Minneapolis’ Vernon Wayne have only a meagre 181 followers on their Facebook page is, quite frankly, a crime. Of course, there’s only so much you can do with limited press, and these chaps seem fairly content to rock it out in their home state, but for what it’s worth, Jazzes is a stunning EP and well worthy of your attention.

Toeing the line between Mastodon-esque crunch and post-hardcore, the five songs on offer cover a range of paces and styles, all intrinsically linked.

A point of interest is raised in the band’s moniker too; Vernon Wayne was the real name of David Koresh, the Branch Davidian nutbag of Waco fame. No cults here as yet, but you might want to think about stocking up on flowing robes and kool-aid in preparation – just in case – because these guys are damn good.

Chris Simon