Those records that made 2013 a better year

Written by Album Review

Traditions die hard, so I just couldn’t skip the year end round-up! As far as this blog is concerned, the best music moments were offered by newcomers rather than by the great (or not so great) return of mythic bands such as Black Sabbath, Queens Of The Stone Age or Alice In Chains. Fortunately enough, the disappointment caused by the latter was quickly swept away by the release of a few heart-striking records, as well as a handful of more than delightful projects (among which a few were reviewed earlier in these pages). This year has been an excellent vintage for stoner, rock and doom, so here’s a absolutely non exhaustive selection of the coolest things I’ve played on my turntables in 2013. Enjoy.


Best stoner album: SAMSARA BLUES EXPERIMENT “Waiting For The Flood” (read review)
Best rock album: CLUTCH “Earth Rocker” (read review)
Best doom album: LUMBAR “The First and Last Days of Unwelcome” (read review)

EARTHLESS “From The Ages” (Tee Pee Records) 

Few are the bands whose music manages to hit you hard at first listening. It hits the spot even more when this electric shock fills your heart and body with pure joy, emotion and excitement, all at the same time. In my mind, Earthless is a nothing but a token of quality among the stoner music field. With this third record, the band explores the edges (if any) of their cosmic blues and give everything with four mind-blowing jams. As usual, these are not “songs” the San Diego trio delivers, but real spatiotemporal odysseys, material for your ears and soul. When “Violence Of The Red Sea” will fire your body and make you swing, while “Uluru Rock” will drag you into the cosmos’ dark dust, like their classic “Lost In The Cold Sun” did a few years ago. Needless to say the thirty minutes long eponymous track reaches the sonic climax of this wonderful record, Isaiah Mitchell’s guitar pouring a hundreds solos over Mario Rubalcaba’s frantic rhythms, taking a delicious oriental turn by the end of it. “From The Ages” is insane, and just as the universe, its possibilities are infinite. The cosmos is now all open to all our mind travels, we could shamelessly say that Earthless gave birth to this year’s rock big bang.

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BLACK PYRAMID “Adversarial” (Hydro-Phonic Records)

After Black Pyramid’s amazingly solid performance at this year’s Hellfest, their new record quickly became my everyday soundtrack. Overwhelmingly powerful, “Adversarial” is also extremely catchy from start to finish: a delight for any music reviewer on this planet. More than ever, the shadow of the mighty Sleep hovers over the band’s creations, yet in the meantime, Black Pyramid perfectly manages to make us travel across their own epic and addictive oceans of riffs all the way through. The evidence being “Issus”, whose main riff is almost impossible to get out off mind, and whose fast pace would almost remind some old school The Sword (NB : I don’t do drugs). If you need more to be completely won over by this record, then just listen to “Aphelion” – US doom in all its glory – or their stirring outro track “Onyx & Obsidian”… Andy Beresky’s departure from the band after “II” hasn’t affected their riffage nor their vocal potential, for metal veteran Darryl Shepard nails both jobs like a boss (the rest of the duty being held tight by groove masters Dave Gein and Clay Neely). Therefore, no matter what music genre would fit best, whether it’d be stoner or doom, or whatever… What really matters in the end, is that the intensity induced by their devastating metal remains above 9 on the Riffster scale.

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BLAAK HEAT SHUJAA “The Edge Of An Era” (Tee Pee Records)

When it comes to psychedelia – I mean the real psychedelia, the one that wraps you, swallows you, bewitches you and makes you trip your balls off while sober – few are the pretenders to the title who manage to mesmerize your subconscious as Blaak Heat Shujaa do. The French-Californian outfit’s second record, released on Tee Pee Records, has earned so many positive reviews because it’s simply close to perfection. The sand in your ears is not the fruit of your imagination, for this album was crafted in the desert, at bare feet magician Scoot Reeder’s Sanctuary. Despite a breakthrough – and excellent – intro song “The Obscurantist Fiend (The Beast Part I), “The Edge Of An Era” is nothing but dreamy, it drives you in the desert and dumps you there with your torment and remorse. The air is so dry it remains impossible to cry even a single tear, your lonely mind eventually finding a shelter in the band’s sitar-sounding guitars and hypnotic grooves… They would even sweep away any bad vibe that was left. “The Edge Of An Era” as one of the few remedies to this millenium’s evils? No doubt.

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CAROUSEL “Jeweler’s Daughter” (Tee Pee Records)

Let’s celebrate the great return of ballsy hard rock, the one who makes you wanna put up a fight anytime! It’s the great return of guitar duos over full speed beats, and it feels goooooood! Picking their influences among British hard rock’s finests of the late 70’s (Thin Lizzy, Motörhead, Diamond Head, to name but a few) while emphasizing on the bluesy and greasy side of the business, Carousel are totally into it and turns out well for it. These nine amped up songs convey their love for cheerful rock anthems, likewise, their live performances are driven by a constant flow of contagious positive vibrations. Add to this guitarist Dave Wheeler’s soulful and powerful vocals, and you hit the jackpot. Carousel’s first record is almost flawless, each song inducing an endorphin whirl into your hypothalamus, irreparably staying stuck in your mind. “Jeweler’s Daughter” is the irresistible hard rock hold-up we’ve been secretly craving for all this time, Carousel just granted our wish.

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BRUTUS “Behind The Mountains” (Svart Records)

In the 70’s rock revival vein that has been all the rage for a few years now, the last record of Scandinavian quintet Brutus does the job pretty nicely. The first thing I liked with this band is their unpretentiousness: they don’t intend to bring this or that vibe, they’re not posers, they just look like they feel good doing it. Logically, a bunch of guys who feel good in their music, it automatically makes the listener feel good. Sat right in between fellow Swedish bands Graveyard and Horisont, Brutus deliver a nice dose of hard rock filled with blues and catchy swings. It must be said that Jokke Stenby ‘s vocals (which really makes me thinks of early days’ Ozzy) brings his pep to the blending. “Behind The Mountains” isn’t nearly different from their debut eponymous effort released in 2010, however it’s a damned good heavy rock product, and the perfect soundtrack for any good rock party launch!

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LOS DISIDENTES DEL SUCIO MOTEL “Arcane” (Deadlight Entertainment)

Among the records who played the most on my turntables in 2013, there is this absolute treasure of French heavy rock called “Arcane”. Well in fact, it’s not a treasure, it’s a BOMB. Why would all the bands be looking for intricacy, when straightforward riffs and a well-orchestrated songwriting can result in such a badass molotov cocktail? This record could be the soundtrack for an epic Z movie directed by Robert Rodriguez and starring Danny Trejo (wait, doesn’t this flick already exist?). At the risk of hurting some people’s feeling, “Arcane” is way more ambitious than most French heavy rock projects I’ve heard in a while. Actually, LDDSM’s “Arcane” is a bit like Trejo: it’s BADASS. The band is messing around with genres (from Ouija’s doomy rock to Deathproof’s metalcore sound), while the record’s round and warm sound fully emphasizes the badassness of each song and the coolness of the vocal harmonies… I just found my little weakness, what about you?

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GROAN “Ride The Snake” EP (Superhot Records)

In the country of the blind, the fool is king. Well, something akin. Let me explain: “madness” was the first word that came to my mind when I discovered Groan. “The hell is Groan?”, you say. Groan is an off-the-wall five piece from London, a bunch of dudes (and dudette) whose aim is only to fill our ears with a bunch of really cool heavy metal licks. As soon as the opening song “Women Of Doom” started, I decided to avoid any kind of comparison or labeling: I decided to cut loose and enjoy the ride. Is there any track on this EP that doesn’t compel you to party? Nope. “Ride The Snake” is a declaration of love to all the hairy dissidents of NWOBHM, mixed with a straightforward display of boldness – the British secret weapon. Instrumentally speaking, it’s in the bag. Vocally, there’s no chance you would actually confuse their foreman’s singular high-pitched singing with any other metal singer of our time. Fat riffs + party vibe + liters of sweat and beer = Groan’s “Ride The Snake” on repeat on your turntables this winter!

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ISAAK “The Longer The Beard The Harder The Sound” (Small Stone Records)

If you want to get into a real fight, then you should join Isaak’s team, because this Italian outfit recently signed on Small Stone Records is not really into deferences and pompous introductions. The foursome impose themselves with abrasive tones, sharp rhythms, and vocals that recalls the unstoppable energy of a certain Neil Fallon. Of course, there is much material to comparison on “The Longer The Beard”, yet Isaak bring forward a more balls-kicking metal touch than their adoptive fathers Clutch and Corrosion Of Conformity… And even though they’re playing it the hard way all along the record, you can count on a few amazing breaks to pace it down, like sludgy ballad “Flood” and “Hypotesis”. These fellas are undeniably good at bringing some tasty chaos in your ears, as well as blowing you away with their freaky low tempo breaks. “The Longer The Beard” is a solid record, a sonic uppercut that will definitely make you turn the other cheek…

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MONSTER TRUCK “Furiosity” (Dine Alone Records)

Once upon a time, I used to listen to more southern rock and metal that my ears could take on, until this day when a slew of wannabe Down and Black Label Society finally got the better of my limits. Yet, among all this Bourbon slough remain a few genuine lumberjacks. The ones in Monster Truck come from Ontario in “Ca-na-duh”. No matter if their sound machine has a taste of déjà-vu, the quality of production, the wide range of tracks and most of all, the band’s contagious drive make up for the fact they didn’t invented the wheel (bit hell, hey can roll it!). As if Clutch has been swallowed by Spiritual Beggars, who would have been swallowed by Deep Purple and ZZ Top – weirdest metaphor ever. Bold grooves are lifting a tidal wave of burning solos and awesome vocals (somewhere between Graveyard’s Joakim Nillson and – warning – Chad Kroeger), just what we need to throw a furious rock party. Yeah, “Furiosity” is nothing but a hell of a stadium heavy rock’n’roll record, made by a hell of a bunch of rock’n’rollas.

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CHURCH OF MISERY “Thy Kingdom Scum” (Rise Above Records)

The big bad wolves of Japan doom are back. They’re BACK, bitches. The instrumental intro “B.T.K. (Dennis Radder)” sets the atmosphere right, the one we’ve been missing so bad since their last record “House Of The Unholy” released in 2009… Within barely six minutes, their monstrous sound, heaviness and groove make us lose all sense of reality, along with the control of our emotions. Some doom, some hot bluesy riffage, some crazy boogie and some serial killers unhooked off the pillory: here’s the Church Of Misery formula. It’s always been the same one, and we wouldn’t like to see a bit of a change. For the “lulz”, let me just say that on “Cranley Gardens (Dennis Andrew Nilsen)”, Hideki Shimizu sounds like a drunken Phil Anselmo, which doesn’t fail to make me giggle each time I listen to it. Here is the magic of a C.O.M trip: there’s no boundaries, every track brings its own dose of insanity over their (literally) bloody and filthy-as-fuck heavy blues. Who would be crazy enough to go without this fucking great record, let’s just turn the volume until our eardrums explode…

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OBELYSKKH “Hymn To Pan” (Exile On Mainstream Records)

In the business, there’s always a band who likes to piss everybody off with an unpronounceable name or a spelling that drives music reviewers completely wacko. Obelyskkh’s name was a bit a pain in the ass to assimilate at first, but honestly, this band worths the try. So yeah, Obelyyysssskkkkh come from Germany, they got big guns, big amps, and a certain sense of outrageousness. “Hymn To Pan” celebrates the wedding between a sludgy heaviness and an out-of-this-world finesse, with monumental track “The Ravens” as the perfect proof. It may sound a bit presomptuous, but this band has a je-ne-sais-quoi that sometimes recalls Cult Of Luna (whose Dantean record “Vertikal” is painfully missing in this list, but hey, I’m no army) and even Neurosis. A few keyboards/piano and clear guitar hints perfectly enhance the oh so varied atmospheres of the record, where boredom is strictly prohibited. This journey ends on a 23 minutes track that has to be comprehended like a movie of its own… Why yes, “Hymn To Pan” is actually perfect from A to Z, simple as that.

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WINDHAND “Soma” (Relapse Records)

Discovering Windhand’s new record was definitely one if this year’s highlights. In April, they released their split EP with Cough (fellow musicians from Richmond, Virginia), then inked a deal with American music label Relapse Records. Sonic hammer blow. BOOM. In September, “Soma” was released worldwide. BOOM. Thrice. I don’t know if that’s because Dorthia Cottrel’s far off incantations remind me of Jus Osborn, or because their riffs are pulsating in such a heavy way that we almost feel lobotomized, but this record is obviously appealing in many ways. Admittedly, it might feel a bit homogeneous over the course, all the riffs being made of one or two notes at most. But who said a pachyderm couldn’t be sexy, hey? No grace notes, really, nothing useless comes to adorn this landmark of sonic heaviness, nothing but a handful of guitar solos, sounding like a distant echo… Every doom fan (I mean, with a capital D) will be won over by Windhand’s greatness. I’ve also heard they’re killer performers, one thing that I’ll check at the next festival for sure…

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BONGRIPPER / CONAN Split EP (Holy Roar Records)

When I’ll be a grown-up, I’ll play doom. 100% sheer concrete doom. When British doom mongers Conan meet American weed metallers Bongripper, it results in 26 minutes of cold heaviness and godless and lawless anguish. Chicago’s weedsters have a place of honor, with Bongripper commencing hostilities with “Beheaded”, a deadly drone beast crawling for 17 long minutes, howling from afar… Sounds like despair cries from a squalid and damp cave. Shorter and more progressive, Conan’s track is entitled “Zero Talent” (c’mon, guys…) and it’s as gloomy as it’s terrifically crushing. It’s so terrifically good that our heartbeat falls into line with the song’s colossally slow pace. If no other record would have been released this year, this sole EP would allow me to say that yeah, 2013 was indeed a fucking heavy year…

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YEAR OF NO LIGHT “Tocsin” (Debemur Morti)

Bordeaux’ doom orchestra Year Of No Light has struck again. The punishment lives up to our billing, like a one hour long slow motion punch in the face, yet it makes us feels that prostration is not consistently a bad thing. As lyrical as they’ve always been, Year Of No Light render a masterful piece of art that slowly comes to life during its first and eponymous song, then gives rise to a whole range of emotions such as melancholy, hopelessness and stupor… And somewhere in the middle, we’re astonishingly coming back to life. The six maestros violently tear us away from this numbing routine, dragging us into a plodding tortuous procession, with their doom and aerial post-metal sound as a soundtrack. It’s hard to describe this record in detail, given the complexity of its realm. Ultimately, “Tocsin” is a gut-wrenching slew of darkness, and certainly one of the most fascinating and successfully completed projects released in 2013.

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YOU MIGHT AS WELL WANT TO CHECK THESE OUT: ASG “Blood Drive“, Big Business “Battlefields Forever“, Chron Goblin “Life For The Living“, Doomriders “Grand Blood“, Intronaut “Habitual Levitations“, Kvelertak “Meir“, Romero “Take The Potion“, Steak “Corned Beef Colossus“, Trippy Wicked & The Cosmic Children Of The Knight “Underground“, Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats “Mind Control“, Vista Chino “Peace” (just for “Acidize… The Gambling Moose”), Woodwall “Wood Empire“.

Last modified: 11 February 2015