Best of 2013 (Part 1): Top 15 Rock Singles

I understand that this blog has been inactive for some time now.  Between various life events, finals, and a crashing hard drive, remaining consistent to my writing has been next to impossible, until now.  Unfortunately, a lot of great material from noteworthy artists has come out (and ultimately gone unrecognized by the blog) since my last post.

In an attempt to compensate for this matter, I have decided to bring the blog back into action with a three-part retrospective on 2013.  This year was a really good one where rock music was concerned, and it’s important that we look back on the songs, albums, and artists that helped define it.

Expect parts 2 and 3 between now and New Year’s Day.  As always, I greatly appreciate your interest and feedback.

Now then, let’s kick things off with my top 15 rock singles of the year:

1. Alice in Chains- “Stone”          

Alice in Chains’ “Stone” is one of those rock songs that makes you remember where you were when you first heard it.  This is mainly a result of its bellowing, ferocious guitar riff- one of the best Jerry Cantrell has ever penned.  The song exemplifies AiC’s talent for innovating their sound, all while keeping in contact with the kinds of evocative blunt force that has kept their work so powerful to this day.

2. Black Sabbath- “God is Dead?”        

The first indicator that Black Sabbath was BACK, “God is Dead” quickly exceeded any expectations fans had about the band’s comeback effort, “13.” The song dances over a haunting guitar arpeggio, periodically exploding into madness before finally climaxing with a classic Toni Iommi guitar solo.

3. Pearl Jam- “Sirens”      

If “Mind Your Manners” was a reminder of Pearl Jam’s angst and aggression, then “Sirens” was a testament to their mastery of sensitive emotion.  “Sirens,” a ballad of uncertainty and loyalty, is a moving accomplishment that could only be topped off by the wavering, cathartic voice of Eddie Vedder.

4. Volbeat- “Lola Montez”      

“Lola Montez” stands as a defining moment on Volbeat’s “Outlaw Gentlemen and Shady Ladies, drawing strength from a catchy chorus and a collection of upbeat lead runs from new member, Rob Caggiano.  The song boasts a made-for-radio sound that juxtaposes its clear sense of creative pride.

5. Paul McCartney/Dave Grohl- “Cut me Some Slack”      

First debuted during last year’s iconic “12/12/12” benefit concert, “Cut me Some Slack” finds Paul McCartney teaming up with the remaining members of Nirvana to deliver a jam reminiscent of the Beatles’ “Helter Skelter.”  Collaborations don’t get much better than this.

6. Queens of the Stone Age- “If I Had a Tail”

It’s hard to pick one track to represent Queens of the Stone Age’s splendid “…Like Clockwork,” one of the year’s standout rock albums.  However, “If I Had a Tail” is simply too infectious to deny.  The song grooves along at a steady pace and benefits from a strong, moody vocal performance from Josh Homme.

7. Nine Inch Nails- “Came Back Haunted”      

Where good Nine Inch Nails songs are concerned, “Came Back Haunted” does it all:  swirling layers of chirping synthesizers and crunching guitars, battered, anxiety-tinted vocals, and a collection of dark themes.  The song draws from a lot of NIN’s notable past works.

8. Korn- “Love and Meth”      

After Korn re-united with former guitarist, Brian “Head” Welch, fans were initially put off by “Never, Never,” a song that favored electronic mixing over guitar work.  “Love and Meth,” the band’s follow-up single, quickly eased these anxieties.  The song features the kind of groaning, pulsating riffs and breakdowns that helped define the popularity of Korn’s late 90’s releases.

9. Ghost- “Secular Haze”      

Ghost are a band based heavily on spectacle, and this spectacle is what fuels “Secular Haze,” one of 2013’s most mesmerizing rock songs.  The track is a slow-paced death waltz centered on a haunting blend of organs, guitars, and the band’s signature tongue-in-cheek satanic imagery.

10. A Perfect Circle- “By and Down”      

They finally did it:  A Perfect Circle unveiled new material in 2013, much to the joy of the band’s eager fanbase (who had been waiting since the release of 2004’s “Passive”).  “By and Down,” an eerie trip through the darkest confines of Maynard James Keenan’s brain, is not a new song per say; it had been performed live for years prior to its studio release in October.  Still, APC’s presence on the charts was refreshing, and continued to fuel hope for a new album.

11. Avenged Sevenfold- “Hail to the King”      

Avenged Sevenfold’s “Hail to the King” takes a modern approach to classic Maiden-style metal and sprinkles it over top themes of medieval war.  Many viewed the song as an acquired taste, but its fresh, catchy impact on 2013’s rock charts proved to be more than evident over time.

12. Arctic Monkeys- “Do I Wanna Know”      

The Arctic Monkeys are a band that deserves more recognition.  “Do I Wanna Know,” may be the major segue track they have been looking for; Alex Turner plays off the song’s defining dirty, bluesy riff with a series of smooth alliterations that are comfortable on the ears and rough on the soul.

13. Rob Zombie- “We’re an American Band”      

When you take the mind of a brilliant modern metal act and apply it to a vintage rock favorite, great things are bound to happen.  Rob Zombie achieved success in putting a fun, gritty twist on a Grand Funk Railroad classic.

14. Filter- “What Do You Say”      

Filter made an unexpected comeback in 2013, blazing a trail for themselves with “What Do You Say.” The hard-hitting track that could easily be viewed as a sequel to the band’s mid-90s classic, “Hey Man, Nice Shot.”

15. Deftones- “Swerve City”      

On “Swerve City,” Deftones stay true to their method of layering entrancing vocals atop a brutally heavy guitar section.  The song is a great cut from “Koi No Yokan”- which received high amounts of praise upon its release in 2012.

This post is dedicated to the memory of Chi Cheng, Lou Reed, Jeff Hanneman, and all the other wonderful and irreplaceable rock musicians we lost during 2013.

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Album Review: Avenged Sevenfold- “Hail to the King”

Avenged Sevenfold albums are usually hit or miss, but the metalcore/hard rock favorites from California have developed a decent track record as of late.  This continued, full-album resilience is more than evident on “Hail to the King,” the band’s latest record.

Unlike the entirely-modern roar of past works like “Nightmare” and “City of Evil,” “Hail to the King” pays a massive amount of tribute to the band’s heavy metal predecessors.  An immediate Metallica influence can be traced to the blistering intro, “Shepard of Fire, ” and is later carried on through “Crimson Day” and the pulsating Lar’s Ulrich-esque beat of “This Means War.”

There will be some who point a finger at A7X and yell “plagiarism,” but the open-minded will be able to recognize the original spin the band puts on each of the album’s tracks, homage or not.

Truth is, there is actually a notable amount of originality on “Hail to the King.”  “Coming Home,” “Requiem,” “Planets,” and the medival-themed title track transcend nearly every element of the band’s past material.  Furthermore, the album’s conclusion, “Acid Rain,” is one of the most beautiful and charged ballad songs the band has ever attempted.

Take the ambition of “Nightmare,” the hooks of “City of Evil,” and the dark subject matter of the self-titled album, compliment it with a healthy dose of classic metal homage, and top it off with something fresh and demonic.

What you’re left with is one of Avenged Sevenfold’s finest albums in quite a while.

All in all:

Standout Tracks:  “Shepard of Fire,” “Hail to the King,” “This Means War,” “Coming Home,” “Requiem,” “Acid Rain”

Avenged Sevenfold- “Hail to the King:” 4.5/5

Song Review: Avenged Sevenfold- “Hail to the King”

Avenged Sevenfold arguably has one of the most loyal and passionate fanbases of any modern heavy metal band.  So naturally, there should be a reasonable level of elation from deathbat worshipers everywhere in response to the band’s newest single, “Hail to the King.”

The song- hot off the presses as of two hours ago- is like a three-way hybrid of Iron Maiden, Guns N’ Roses, and Metallica.  It includes much of what one would expect from a standard A7X tune:  and a gravely M. Shadows vocal performance, a powerful rhythmic backdrop from Johnny Christ and Zacky Vengance, and a collection of Synyster Gates lead riffs that will hurt the fingers of the guitar-illiterate.  The only notable deviation from the band’s  typical metalcore/classic metal formula is the contributions of Arin Ilejay (who replaced the late James “The Rev” Sullivan earlier this year).  Ilejay pounds away at his kit and makes it clear that he is a solid replacement for a nearly irreplaceable musician. 

“Hail to the King” packs a punch, but not a wallop.  It lacks the overtly-dominate hooks and stand-out guitar riffs displayed on older songs like “Beast and the Harlot” and “Nightmare,” but it still gives listeners a strong sampling of the upcoming album’s potential.

Avenged Sevenfold- “Hail to the King:” 3.5/5

Listen to “Hail to the King” here: