My Favorite Metal of 2013


Space Ghost
Aug 31, 2008
Near Raleigh, NC
I always seem to be the last to offer my best-of list. Never the less, here it is. As I put this list together, I realized just how great a year 2013 was for metal. (For you sticklers, I confess that a few of the albums below were released prior to 2013.) While a variety of subgenres are represented here, I do lean heavily toward the progressive metal end of the prog-power spectrum. So, if that is not your bag, then you may want to pass. I am going to break a personal rule of not including any bands that existed during the classic rock era. The two exceptions to this rule are: Now What?! by Deep Purple and 13 by Black Sabbath. Why break the rule? Answer: Leaving them off my best-of list felt like having to go to church without a major piece of clothing!

I purchased over 150 new CDs in 2013, so here are the ones that I would recommend – all in my opinion are well worth owning. I posted the same list on Amazon, hoping that it might help sell a few extra copies of our favorite artists. Therefore, the write-ups below mini reviews directed toward a more general audience than many of you on the forum. So, here is my #1 favorite release of 2013:

1) Epysode – Fantasmagoria, Various: Epysode’s latest release is the best album in a few years. While project albums often lack cohesiveness, Fantasmagoria is like a power hand in progressive glove. Arkon has authored an intriguing story and melodies that are truly addictive. The title track alone will require extended rehab. The cast of artists deliver exceptional performances necessary to produce a true classic.

2) Kingcrow – In Crescendo, Italy: Following up Phlegethon was not going to be easy, but Kingcrow deliver an equally excellent album with In Crescendo. How do they do it? Answer: With music that can be remote, introspective, and gut-wrenching all at the same time. Kingcrow accomplishes such emotions with lyrics, vocals, and instrumentation: check out the link at 2:20 to get chills running down your spine.

3) Deep Purple – Now What?!, UK: I admit that I cut my teeth on DP. They are the reason why I love music. That said, their last few albums would not have made my annual best-of list. Now What?! is easily their best album since Purpendicular. Jon Lord (r.i.p.) is smiling with the keyboards so large in the mix. Plus, I love how they have reverted to extending pieces with cool interludes and solos. My boys have made me proud!

4) Sacred Mother Tongue – Out of the Darkness, UK: With plenty of hard hitting riffs and progressive touches, primarily from Andy James’ brilliant guitar, SMT delivers a head banging experience that is fresh and enduring. But tell us it isn’t so! - SMT’s Facebook site says that they are calling it a day. After producing such a great album, how can this be so? While all good things must end, I truly wish that they would reconsider.

5) A Sound of Thunder – Time’s Arrow, US: Prolific ASoT follow up last year’s Out of the Darkness with another gem. Guitarist Josh Schwartz was obviously raised on a diet of Purple, Sabbath, Alice Cooper (see link) and BOC (Heck, he thinks that I look like Buck Dharma!), but make no mistake – this is great modern metal. Anything but a wilting flower, Nina Osegueda’s beautiful vocals will singe your hair if you get too close.

6) Prospekt – The Colourless Sunrise, UK: Prospekt release the strongest technical prog metal of the year with The Colourless Sunrise. With clear influences from DT, SX and even Malmsteen, those who revel in first-rate chops won’t be disappointed. Further, the originality of their music is more than enough to set them apart from their mentors. The title track is one of the best extended compositions of the year.

7) Six Minute Century – Wasting Time, US: Returning with a darker, more disturbing album, SMC greatly raised their game. Recounting past catastrophes, many of the songs are captivating and yet troubling. Case in point is Baptized in Fire with its story of the Waco tragedy. The song includes audio recordings of David Koresh. Chilling is the only word that adequately describes SMC’s daring opus. Bass connoisseurs will love Czardas.

8) Caligula’s Horse – The Tide, The Thief & River’s End, Australia: CH’s second album is a much more complete package, possessing a true band sound and fully developed song ideas. Grey’s haunting vocals and lyrics bring a distinctive dimension that alone would set this band apart. Add to this Vallen’s writing and wonderful guitar art, CH carves out an appealing niche in the prog metal genre. Dark Hair down is one of the best songs of 2013.

9) Lord – Digital Lies, Australia: This is the best pure power metal on this list. Loaded with catchy vocals and super flashy guitar, Lord romps through well crafted song after well crafted song. While featuring three different lead vocalists and elevated choruses, Lord doesn’t hesitate to throw in the jaw dropping instrumental Because We Can. Shades of Iron Maiden are never too far in the background.

10) Fates Warning – Darkness in a Different Light, US: FW returns to a writing style more akin to their masterpiece Parallels. All the classic Fates trademarks are there: Ray’s emotional voice, heavy and complex riffs and instrumentation, prominent drumming, and impressive solos, which have taken a back seat in other more recent releases. Accessibility has taken priority over adventurism with one form of creativity being exchanged for another.

11) Dream Theater – Dream Theater, US/Canada: For me, DT is to prog metal what DP is to hard rock, making a review difficult. This album certainly fits well in their catalog, but maybe they should have pushed the boundaries more. That said, compared to the predecessor this is somewhat edgier with slightly less musical dexterity. While I love their world’s best musicianship, I prefer edge over chops, so overall a step forward.

12) Divided Multitude – Feed On Your Misery, Norway: Daring and powerful, Divided Multitude’s most recent release is very much “in your face” metal. Sindre Antonsen’s muscular vocals fit the music with equal forcefulness. Much of the riffing is heavy, rhythmic, and extended, often satisfying on its own. All of this enjoyable raucous is contrasted at other times with strong but melodic choruses. Crimson Sunset is my favorite track.

13) The Winery Dogs – The Winery Dogs, US: Portnoy has finally landed in a highly promising project. The Winery Dogs practice what I would call “blues metal”. At times the music can be a bit laid back, but at other times it really romps. Even when things slow down, Mike is still bashing away, which I love. Obviously, there is no lack of musicianship with this trio and more importantly they prove that they can compose tasty tunes.

14) Oliva – Raise the Curtain, US: Playing most of the instruments, Jon gives us a true solo album. Based upon the last remaining bits and pieces of vault material that he and Criss (r.i.p.) recorded, Jon delivers a rocker that at times is quite poignant. Soul Chaser with its infectious riff is a personal favorite, not the least because I actually sing on it with the Prog Power Choir (thank God you can’t actually hear me!).

15) Cyrenic – Selective Memory, US: Relatively unknown, Cyrenic deserve more attention. For those who only want music that saturates the head banging meter, this is probably not your cup of tea; however, their music is definitely engaging. To me, there is an earthy warmth that radiates through their sound. Many of the songs hit home with real life themes. Well worth checking out when you are in a reflective mood.

16) Speaking to Stones – Elements, US: For this prog metal snob, Elements satisfied immediately on first spin. Tony’s Vinci blends technical and expressive guitar playing with a tone that simply sounds perfect. With only 5 tracks, you get plenty of musical indulgence, but the music never sounds like musician’s only music, remaining easily digestible. Religious lyrics are used throughout, but never come off sappy or preachy.

17) Avantasia – The Mystery of Time, Various: Edguy’s star delivers a symphonic metal opera masterpiece. Chocked with a lengthy list of notable vocalists and instrumentalists, and top notch production, The Mystery of Time pleases mostly with strong song writing and memorable reprises. This is possibly the best “Broadway metal” of the year.

18) Voodoo Circle – More Than One Way Home, Germany: Whitesnake’s latest release…err, I mean Voodoo Circle’s latest release is a splendid collection of metalized classic rock. Seriously, this is a great album and a great band that doesn’t fear the comparisons, because their music is simple that good. Besides the snake comparison, the guitar on The Ghost in Your Heart has the Man-in-Black written all over it.

19) Black Sabbath – 13, UK: While DP succeeded by evolving, BS have succeeded by de-evolving. With the exception of modern recording, 13’s morass of doom and heavy down-tuned distortion would fit nicely between Paranoid and Masters of Reality. BS can legitimately claim to be the most influential band ever for heavy metal, being the first to evolve from primordial hard rock. This album does nothing to diminish that claim.

20) Le Reverie – Dark Symphony, US: Classy and sassy are words to describe Le Reverie. The “classy” is immediately there with the stings intro and continues through the lyrics and progressive, but deliberately restrained, music. Allie Jorgen’s voice and delivery is the “sassy,” having an almost hypnotizing-like effect. Something about their music makes me feel like getting turned down for a high school dance (which happened a lot!)

21) Serenity – War of Ages, Austria: Serenity return with their brand of slick symphonic metal. The addition of Clementine Delauney only makes a winning formula better. War of Ages continues the historical theme of their previous outing. No doubt that Georg Neuhauser’s doctoral studies in history helped formulate this direction. Plus, the story lines and themes fit quite well with the classically inspired music influences.

22) DGM – Momentum, Italy: DGM only gets better. They have upped the heaviness of their music while keeping it melodic. Simone Mularoni is an amazing guitarist and is certainly a busy guy with contributions to three albums on this list (Epysode, DGM, and Empyrios). If energy is what you want in your music, then look no further. DGM deliver an album that shows a confidence of a band that is very much on their game.

23) Witherscape – The Inheritance, Sweden: These guys really do put the “melodic” in melodic death metal. While most bands of this subgenre switch between growling and clean vocals, Witherscape seamlessly transition between a variety of vocal styles. Their harsh vocals are genuinely catchy; for example, I can’t but sing along to chorus in Dead for a Day. Not into death growls? Give the disc a spin and you might just get hooked.

24) Mercury Falling – Into the Void, Germany: Fans of bands like Pagan’s Mind and Masterplan should take these guys for a test ride. Their music is straight ahead metal with power and progressive elements. With drumming high in the mix of MF’s music, head banging is an involuntary reflex. With Into the Void being their fourth album, I am surprised that I haven’t heard of them before. I will be on the lookout in the future.

25) Circle II Circle – Seasons Will Fall, US: If I could be a singer in a rock band, I would want to sound like Zak Stevens. With the rest of CIIC, his strong and emotion-filled voice is back with one of their best releases. From the almost ballad Sweet Despair to the riff drenched Diamond Blade, they capture a refined sound that still has an edge. This album has such strong material I wished that they would have played more of it on their last tour.

26) Thought Chamber – Psykerion, US: This is a must listen for any self proclaimed prog metaller. Intricate, convoluted and performed by masters of their trade, TC provides a lot to sink your teeth into. With track lengths from 1:08 to 9:38, formula compositions are out the window. If anything, the music on this release is more challenging than the first. Therefore, it might take an extra listen or two to get fully acclimated.

27) Soilwork – The Living Infinite, Sweden: Soilwork delivers their labor of love with not one, but two music-packed discs, suggesting such a writing binge that they just couldn’t stop. While melodic death metal isn’t what I naturally gravitate to, Soilwork’s double masterpiece makes perfect sense to these ears. The excellent playing and tight clean voiced choruses contrast the growls like sweet and sour in a great dessert.

28) James Labrie – Impermanent Resonance, Various: JL’s partnership with Matt Guillory has yielded the most successful “solo” career of any of the DT Wunderkind. Polished and edgy, Impermanent Resonance has a modern feel. The compositions are tight bundles that still have room for riffs and solos. For those not into any amount of growls, be warned because Peter Wildoer has his opportunity. It all works quite well for me.

29) Disperse – Living Mirrors, Poland: Eclectic and almost chic, Disperse serve their music with a refined flair and grace. Jakub Zytecki’s guitar playing is as technically exacting, expressive, and unique as any that you find on this list. The production of Living Mirrors is crystal clear, allowing everything to be heard. The compositions are never rushed allowing the moods and messages time to assimilate.

30) Sleepers Awake – Transcension, US: Obscure and overlooked, Sleepers Awake’s sophomore effort has been described by a noted promoter as “occult metal” with its sinister lyrics and droning ambience. With the lyrics that still leave much to the imagination, Sleepers Awake’s music is listenable for those not sharing their same interests but like passionate, heavy music.

31) Masterplan – Novum Initium, Germany: Fast, energetic and enticing, Masterplan deliver metal that should keep the power heads banging. Each song features a wall of sound that pulls you in like a tractor beam. Much of the music places the key boards on equal footing with the guitars providing a more diverse sound than many of their peers. Coverdale-like vocals provide a slight bluesy tinged character.

32) Amaranthe – Nexus, Sweden: With the trademark, multi-styled vocals (lovely female, soaring clean male and death growls), heavy metal backing music and captivating melodies, Amaranthe press on with a recipe that is winning fans all over the world. With production and videos that demonstrate that they want to go big time, the music hasn’t suffered in the least. Who knows, they may just make it to the top.

33) The Sword – Apogryphon, US: Every year one doom metal album sucks me in. Apogryphon is my fix this time around. Definitely retro in style and owing more than a little to the gents who released the album 13, the effect for this old-timer is to transport me back to the days of bell bottoms and acne. Turn the lights down, sit on the shag carpet, pass around your favorite concoction and let The Sword’s doom satisfy.

34) Leprous – Coal, Norway: The tortured maze of musical madness has been unleashed on us once again by the delirious hoard called Leprous. Bring it on! However, this time the beating is of a more sublime nature, sort of like a Kurt Vonnegut novel – enticing with a touch of repulse. If progressive means pushing the boundaries, then Coal is as prog as it gets.

35) Maestrick – The Last Embrace to Humanity, Brazil: Musically, Maestrick is all over the place, which is a good thing in this case. Sounds, like Queen, DT, Fiddler on the Roof, Tubular Bells and new age, come and go in bursts and snippets. Anything but improvised, there is a grand design to all this shape shifting and the result is an intriguing concept album. Even with all the variety, every second of this concept album is very accessible.

36) Vangough – Between the Madness, US: If Leprous pushes the boundary too far for you but you want some adventurous metal, then give Vangough a try. Van Gogh’s masterpiece paintings are thought to have been the product of his disturbed mind. Vangough, the band, uses lyrics about the troubled mind in a similar way, so don’t expect warm, cuddly music. However, like a good horror movie, you want to see what is going to happen next.

37) Ticket to the Moon - Dilemma On Earth, Switzerland: More contemplative than most of this list, TttM’s music is more about mood and ambience. At times heavy and other times almost whimsical, this is more brain food than brain bashing. While not an instrumental album, the vocals are sparsely used throughout. TttM’s music is more cerebral than my typical fare, but I find Dilemma of Earth enjoyable none the less.

38) Saffire – From Ashes to Fire, Sweden: It must be the long winter nights or the Belvedere that produces the almost endless number of progressive power bands rising from the northern countries. While keeping up with them all is impossible, Saffire is definitely worth checking out. With plenty here to sing along with and bang your head to, one time through is all it takes to get hooked to the hooks.

39) Withem – The Point of You, Norway: Running in the same pack as Circus Maximus, Seventh Wonder and Pagan’s Mind, Withem wear their Scandinavian prog power metal roots on their sleeves. While there is no new ground plowed here, Withem have their own identity, sound, and expertly practice their craft. Everything on The Point of You is easily consumed and digested, leaving a pleasant aftertaste.

40) Empyrios – Zion, Italy: Empyrios is Simone Mularoni’s outlet for aggression. To be sure, Zion will never top the easy listening chart. What you get here is music that should satisfy those who want to put on musical boxing gloves and go at it. Exactness is not lost in all the fury. There are plenty of syncopated rhythms here to synch your brain to if you are up to the challenge.
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30) Sleepers Awake – Transcension, US: Obscure and overlooked, Sleepers Awake’s sophomore effort has been described by a noted promoter as “occult metal” with its sinister lyrics and droning ambience. With the lyrics that still leave much to the imagination, Sleepers Awake’s music is listenable for those not sharing their same interests but like passionate, heavy music.

Thanks. Just bought this on Bandcamp.
40) Empyrios – Zion, Italy: Empyrios is Simone Mularoni’s outlet for aggression. To be sure, Zion will never top the easy listening chart. What you get here is music that should satisfy those who want to put on musical boxing gloves and go at it. Exactness is not lost in all the fury. There are plenty of syncopated rhythms here to synch your brain to if you are up to the challenge.

Funny thing here. I bought their first album on Amazon a day or two ago and there was one review of it. Yours. Also this album is killer.
I picked up the Epysode a little over a month ago... it's still in my car - completely unable to take it out because of it's sheer awesomeness...
Was Speaking to Stones a 2013 release? No matter, it's easily the best album I've purchased in the last few years. Simply amazing.

Yep, Speaking to Stones was one of the exceptions requiring my disclaimer at the top. I didn't have the disc in time for my 2012 list and I agree with you that Elements is a terrific album, so I included them in this year's list.
Excellent list as usual. One of the posts I watch for every year. A few new things for me to check out. Bummed that a couple of them aren't on Spotify. I'm always a year behind anyway, so I have a while to check them out.