Norway's Kvelertak started out right in 2010 with an 11-track, self-titled debut of heavy-metal hedonism, pulling together bits and pieces of Refused-style hardcore, Turbonegro-style riff rock, and the occasional blackened blast-beat surge à la Darkthrone to maximize its assault. With second album Meir, however, the band has fully transformed from eclectic hardcore rockers to the best party-metal band on the planet.
Rather than simply aiming for being either more accessible or more sonically inclusive, Kvelertak set out to do both on Meir, broadening its palette while offering its catchiest tunes to date. First single "Bruane Brenn" is fairly straightforward, stacking meaty power chords against a sing-along chorus (in Norwegian). Yet from there, the songs grow ever bolder, from the triumphant Southern-rock-meets-black-
More than merely one of the strongest albums in heavy music in 2013, Meir is one of the strongest albums made with guitars this year.
- Jeff Terich
The 13th studio album — and first in four years — by veteran electronic act Depeche Mode opens with a set of forceful synthetic blips before singer David Gahan’s heavy-breathing vocals take center stage. Over the next hour, Gahan almost single-handedly provides the human element in what is otherwise a spartan, even chilly, sonic environment. Of course, principle mastermind Martin Gore has built Depeche Mode's career largely on his ability to marry longing and malaise with mechanical arrangements.
As usual, Gore and company modify the organic/inorganic balance just enough to make for fresh touches that reveal themselves on multiple listens. Delta Machine also marks the group's first collaboration in 20 years with studio luminary Flood, who put his stamp on Depeche Mode classics Violator and Songs of Faith and Devotion. Here his mixes have a gleaming, skyscraper-like quality.
By now, longtime fans will be all too familiar with the religious references that litter the songs on Delta Machine — angels, baptism, heaven, etc. If on several songs Gahan sounds like he's finally found peace and redemption, unlike so many artists, he and his cohorts still manage to make middle-aged happiness sound as alluring as their past struggles.
- Saby Reyes-Kulkarni
Originally spawned to pair Finnish folk music with black and extreme forms of metal, Helsinki's Finntroll has spent five (now six) albums expanding its trademark sound, growing more cinematic, cartoonish, worldly, and melodic. Blodsvept, though still first and foremost a metal album, continues the trend of no two songs being alike, with film-score motifs, circus elements, and psychobilly joining the trashing, chugging, speed-picking madness.
"Mordminnen" (translation: "murder memories") sounds like a crunchy rendition of the Inspector Gadget theme. Banjo and guitar offer synchronized shredding on "Skogsdotter," Tom Waits-ian vocal rumblings appear late on the folksy "Rösets Kung," and horns play an important supporting role throughout, most notably on the groovy and ghoulish "Häxbrygd."
As a result, Blodsvept — like its predecessors — inches ever closer to a fully realized Finntroll.
- Scott Morrow
"Demon to Lean on"
You’ve found your summer driving record.
Wavves, back with its fourth album, has reconciled sunshiny, blissed-out melodies, breezy guitars, and shout-to-the-clouds vocals into something that stands between Weezer’s early work and the lo-fi rock of Japandroids. Not derivative, not slow, this is a summer-camp soundtrack — albeit with more manic depression and murder of public servants.
The band, a duo now, feels sharp; songs cut to the point, dealing with uncomfortable subjects, be it religion on "Sail to the Sun" or the lyrical violence and humor of "Gimme a Knife." Guitarist Nathan Williams has the vocal range to go from surf to punk in a split second. With him at the helm, Wavves has entered the dark places we avoid — and painted the whole thing day-glo orange.
- Lincoln Eddy
How often can one say that it's an impossibly great week for Scandinavian metal, let alone Scandinavian troll-themed folk metal? Unlike its Finnish contemporaries in Finntroll (whose vocalist, Vreth, makes an appearance here), Norway's Trollfest has remained fully invested in its folk elements, albeit with a broader map.
The band's fifth full-length is another jaw-dropping combination of raging tempos and thrash and melodic death-metal riffs with Balkan melodies, group chanting, and troll-related silliness. Greek bouzouki gives a metallic twang and Mediterranean vibe to tracks such as "Illsint," while accordion, banjo, xylophone, and more offer accents throughout.
Though the album's momentum is derailed by a pair of jokey acoustic songs and a tongue-in-cheek radio-metal song about selling out, the rest of it will leave your mouth agape. And amid a plethora of modern folk- and pagan-metal groups who play it straight, it's nice to see a band that isn't afraid to have a goofy good time.
- Scott Morrow
Cnoc An Tursa: The Giants of Auld (Candlelight)
Hierophant: Great Mother: Holy Monster (Bridge Nine)
J Dilla: The Diary (PayJay)
Niagara: OTTO (Monotreme)
Tool: Opiate EP special edition
Tartufi: These Factory Days (Southern)
Wardruna: Yggdrasil (Indie)