Top 10 Albums of 2013, by Bill Haff

There are so many albums to choose from; so many demo tapes, 7”s, splits, et al, and I’m allowing all of these to be in the best-of lists. With that said, here are my personal top jams from 2013.

1. Left for Dead - Devoid of Everything (A389 Recordings)

Kevin Bersten/Developing Nations remixed the entire ‘96-’97 output by the legendary Hamilton, Ontario hardcore/fastcore/angry-as-fuck act Left for Dead, and it was mastered by James Plotkin, to which I have to say: thank you. Most of Left for Dead’s releases were of awful quality, but with Devoid of Everything, the quality is absolutely perfect. It’s gritty, mean, and vicious; Left for Dead is quite possibly the angriest hardcore band I’ve ever listened to. Sure, you can make a case for fellow Hamilton destroyers Haymaker and another band appearing down this list, but the Chris Colohan fronted act are just fucking mean. Devoid of Everything is brilliant; it might be straightforward and to-the-point, but that’s what hardcore should be. No frills, no bullshit; just unrelenting anger. I’m forever ashamed of myself for missing them at the A389 Anniversary bash AND Chaos in Tejas, but I will be going apeshit during their set at Maryland Deathfest XII. Listen

2. Deafheaven - Sunbather (Deathwish, Inc.)

What can be said about this record that hasn’t already been said? Part redefinition of black metal and part post-rock soundscapes, Deafheaven’s seminal work goes down as one of those releases that touches absolute greatness. Amazingly layered and full of clarity, Sunbather is just one of those albums that you can never get enough of. Beautiful, organic, and textured brilliantly, the album is definitely worth all the praise it has ever been graced with, and then some. Listen

3. Column of Heaven - Holy Things are for the Holy (Iron Lung Records)

I can’t get enough of Canada, apparently. Toronto’s Column of Heaven released that masterwork known as Mission From God last year, and everyone ate it up. Holy Things are for the Holy is an extension of the wacky noise/experimental/drone that was heard last year, and on this 7”, it’s cranked up to new levels. Blast-beats, awkward drum patterns, and odd sounds/general weirdness pepper the two-track 7”, and it’s amazing. Column of Heaven continually pushes boundaries, experimenting wildly with cacophonous noise and layers. Listen

4. Vattnet Viskar - Sky Swallower (Century Media)

I’ve talked about this album too much. What is my top album of the year, it contains everything I desperately want from a black metal album. There’s so much dynamic going on. Textured layers of guitar work, drum tracks, atmospheric noise. Everything. Black metal changed over the years and with it came the change of musicianship. Taking notes from post-rock and post-metal, Vattnet Viskar’s Sky Swallower is a down-right fantastic display of black metal bliss. Listen

5. Weekend Nachos - Still (Relapse Records)

What would my end-of-the-year list be without mentioning Chicago’s own Weekend Nachos? It’d probably be stupid. Seriously. Still is a menacing album. I already wrote about it here. A furious but lovely blend of hardcore, powerviolence, sludge, and various other genres create a cathartic atmosphere. Another great effort by Weekend Nachos. Listen

 6. Nails - Abandon All Life (Southern Lord)

Let’s get one thing straight: I fucking love Nails. I own every variant of Unsilent Death on vinyl and I pre-ordered Abandon All Life the day the sale went up. Seeing them live for the first time at the Broad Street Ministry was a helluva an experience; they completely tore the place down. Nails are one of the most vicious, destructive hardcore bands and Abandon All Life just pulverizes, decimates, and other synonyms for destruction that I can’t think of and wouldn’t do the record justice anyway. Listen

7. Oranssi Pazuzu - Valonielu (Svart Records, 20 Buck Spin)

I’ve always held a soft spot for weird music, and Oranssi Pazuzu is no different. Combining elements of psychedelia and black metal to form wondrous soundscapes, Valonielu is one of those albums that doesn’t take a lot of time to sink its teeth in. Sure, there’s black metal riffage going on here but that’s not what makes the album special. What is special about it is that it branches off in wide directions seamlessly. How many times can you have a black metal release that combines New Wave and Krautrock with the heralded lo-fi, foreboding genre? Not many. Listen

8. Cülo - My Life Sucks and I Could Care Less (Deranged Records)

So who here has heard of Chicago’s Cülo? Anyone? The Chicago hardcore punk act put out a ton of EPs that were really awesome, and their first full length retains that energy and drive. It’s super punky with full speed thrashing attacks, and at times unrelentingly angry, but that’s what makes the band so awesome. Brutal honesty and catchy riffs make for an album that feels unique and inspired amidst all the same bullshit. Listen

9. Windhand - Soma (Relapse Records)

Virginia’s Windhand outdid themselves. They put together a doom/stoner metal masterpiece. While some of the tracks are long, and it takes some time to be fully immersive, the riffs themselves are wondrous beasts of doom metal glory. It’s a different animal of stoner doom altogether. These riffs are sickly sweet; infectious, if you will. Slow and churning metal, coupled with Dorthia Cotrell’s amazing vocals make for an album that is just the pinnacle of what stoner doom should be. Listen

10. Perfect Pussy - I Have Lost All Desire for Feeling (self-released)

Okay, this is totally not metal or hardcore or whatever, and I know everyone in “the underground” has talked about them already, but Syracuse’s Perfect Pussy released this demo tape some time in April and Christ, I’ve been hooked. They’re one of those bands I’ve heard through word-of-mouth, instead of scouring the Internet (read: tumblr) to find something completely out of left-field. They’ve blown up a little bit (with good reason); this demo tape is absolutely fantastic. It’s jangly, wild, and noisy -- definitely things that I find attractive in music. If you like your music raw and unfiltered, this one is definitely for you. Just don’t expect, like, death metal or something. Listen

Editor-in-Chief at Scratch the Surface, Bill Haff is a Philadelphia-based music critic who also contributes for Cvlt Nation, Metal Injection and Ghost Cult. You can follow him on Twitter at @bill_haff