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13 Magnificent Metal Records That Ruled 2013

Thought metal was inaccessible? Think again.

13. Queens of the Stone Age, ...Like Clockwork

Queens of the Stone Age may change band members like shoes — Jack Black, Julian Casablancas, Trent Reznor…and many, many more have been among their ranks — but Josh Homme's band is remarkably consistent. …Like Clockwork is the band's sixth full-length album and its first on an indie label. It continues the grand, wonderfully sleazy tradition of their previous records. It's a loud and raucous good time. And as if that weren't enough, Elton John plays piano on this bad boy. Yeah, Elton effin' John.

12. Windhand, Soma

Windhand's Soma is a slow burner that builds a constant march toward a murky oblivion. It follows their 2012 self-titled debut and continues on with their signature fuzzy guitars and vocals. Their songs are meticulously structured, and they make even the most repetitive riffs consistently engaging. The record ends with the impressive THIRTY-MINUTE-LONG track "Boleskine," which is the ideal soundtrack for stoned lounging.

11. Vaura, The Missing

Vaura is a metal supergroup featuring members of Dysrhythmia, Kayo Dot, Religious to Damn, and Azar Swan. But don't let the band's intimidating collective résumé distract you from the music on their second album, which is equal parts psychedelic post-rock and gloomy new wave. The heavier tracks, like the incredible "Incomplete Burning," prove that melody and metal can be a perfect combination.

10. Bölzer, Aura

Switzerland's finest death metal duo of recent history, Bölzer, fill their macabre, violent music with hoarse growls that would have anyone shaking at the knees. It's probable that this album will fly under the radar for many metal fans, and that's a shame. The track "C.M.E." is something like a call to action; the band entices you into purgatory. Not sure I won't follow.

9. Yellow Eyes, Hammer of the Night

The world will never run out of black metal bands, but this does not necessarily mean all of them are any good. Enter New York's Yellow Eyes, the goth-y answer to our prayers. Like many before them, Yellow Dogs play with shoegaze landscapes in their metal, giving much of Hammer of the Night a somewhat pretty, albeit noisy, quality. Tortured screams and impossibly quick percussion define the album, producing a somewhat cathartic effect. A solid album for most states of mind, as long as they're on the heavier side of things.

8. Prurient, Through the Window

Earlier this year, music critic Sasha Frere-Jones wrote an article on a nameless genre, mostly looking to the industrial techno stylings of Brooklyn's Tri Angle Records and bands like Demdike Stare, The Haxan Clock, and Silent Servant. There are some sonic similarities, but mostly aesthetic ones, a certain sharp goth darkness in their visuals. Prurient fits loosely into this camp, namely because of their brilliant use of black metal, techno and noise: a sexy bleakness that shouldn't mesh. This is the work of Dominic Fernow, the prolific L.A. musician whose mantra lies somewhere in a belief that terrifying soundscapes deserve to be existential, druggy, and danceable. Through the Window is a far venture from the blackened noise of his earliest releases, and for good reason: The record is a triumph.

7. Nails, Abandon All Life

It's easy to think of Nails as a band that punks and metal heads alike can both enjoy. There's the relentless d-beat and unavoidable grindcore element, not to mention the impossibly quick and ridiculously grimy bass lines. Abandon All Life is the California band's sophomore LP, and a huge step toward a fervent personality. Their identity stems from their brief yet satiable tracks and their "I want to see you suffer" hollers. Not all metal is meant to act as a release of aggression, but Nails sure as hell hopes that's what you get out of it.

6. KEN Mode, Entrench

KEN Mode (which stands for "Kill Everyone Now") aren't your normal metal band. They are born from, and influenced by, noisy post-hardcore — a quick glance at the album cover will verify this. The band exists somewhere between Drive Like Jehu worship and vicious metal. KEN Mode is a metal band with sometimes slight emo tendencies. (Vocalist Jesse Matthewson is kind of similar to Jeremy Bolm of Touché Amoré.) Entrench is like being coiled by a snake or being hit in the head with a boot. You won't die, and you might even enjoy the pain.

5. Inquisition, Obscure Verses for the Multiverse

The Seattle-based satanic black metal duo Inquisition have done it again. Following 2011's Ominous Doctrines of the Perpetual Mystical Macrocosm, their new release is somewhat of a continuation, furthering the band's already captivating and sinister rhythms. Even a cursory listen to "Inversion of Ethereal White Stars" unveils a world in which Satan is king, his weapons of choice bombastic drums and dystopic riffing. No bass, no problem. Hell doesn't sound so bad after all.

4. Power Trip, Manifest Decimation

Some of the best metal veers toward punk — anarchistic energy, brash, or nonsensical screams of an instigated frontperson, and bursts of aggression. Dallas band Power Trip manage to take the physicality of hardcore and beat it into submission with long songs and soaring guitars. Frontman Riley Gale does his best Cro-Mags impression, giving fans the sonic equivalent of a mosh pit. So, yeah, basically a band from hardcore put out one of the best metal albums of the year. Step off or join in, thrashers.

3. Gorguts, Colored Sands

The gods have spoken, and they're, like, really fucking angry. This is Gorguts, the Quebec death metal band of nightmarish dreams, heavy, calculated, and technical. We've waited a while for this one — 12 years... That's a seventh-grader. We've waited an entire tween for a new Gorguts record — that includes the three-year disbandment — and our patience has been rewarded. Frontman Luc Lemay and his new band (bassist Colin Marston of Krallice and Behold the Arctopus, guitarist Kevin Hufnagel of Dysrhythmia and Vaura, and John Longstreth of Origin and Dim Mak on drums) are exceptionally forceful. There's G.C. Green-like thundering bass, a haunting classical music interlude in "The Battle of Chamdo," and the sonic surge of violence in "Forgotten Arrows." The band's musical proficiency seems to know no bounds: It's the record counterpart of watching a perfectly orchestrated battle scene.

2. Carcass, Surgical Steel

Carcass have been around seemingly forever: a 10-year stint from 1985–1995, later reuniting in 2007. Not much has changed in that time, and in this case, that's totally not a bad thing. Surgical Steel is the band's first album in 18 years. The Liverpool band doesn't need to fight to prove their legacy. As grindcore pioneers, they validate and tweak the age-old maxim "don't fix what ain't broke…but perhaps perfect it." Consistency is key, especially with the sharp riffs of "Unfit for Human Consumption," perhaps an ode to former guitarist Michael Amott (is he even really gone?). For the death metal fan, Surgical Steel is a necessity. It's perhaps better than their last record, Swansong. It's a battle cry to bands their junior: This is how it's done. Perhaps it doesn't get any more metal than that.

1. Deafheaven, Sunbather

To call something haunting beautiful is a cliché. Deafheaven knows this, and they're refusing to comply. The Bay Area shoegaze-metal band's sophomore LP Sunbather (on Jacob Bannon of Converge's label Deathwish) is something of a revelation: guitars powered by a sense of immediacy that somehow give the listener time to breathe next to vocal growls that stop them from doing so. Then there are moments of calming allure, an ode to guitarist Kerry McCoy's love of the Smiths, presumably, but the album also features warped pop music hat tips to My Bloody Valentine. More than that, though, Deafheaven has done the unthinkable: They've made an accessible album of a genre that's inaccessible to most. Many before have tried and have failed valiantly. It's conceptual, sure, but it's all-encompassing. It's headphone music, but also park music, and also bedroom music, and roof music, and boat music, and music for anywhere there is space.