Best of 2013 (Part 2): Top 10 Rock Albums of 2013

Part two of my “Best of 2013” retrospective takes a look at the best rock albums of the year.

Before commencing this countdown, here is a quick look back at Part 1:  The Top 15 Rock Songs of the Year:

15. Deftones- “Swerve City”

14. Filter- “What Do you Say”

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

12. Arctic Monkeys- “Do I Wanna Know”

11. Avenged Sevenfold- “Hail to the King”

10. A Perfect Circle- “By and Down”

9. Ghost- “Secular Haze”

8. Korn- “Love and Meth”

7. Nine Inch Nails- “Came Back Haunted”

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

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

4. Volbeat- “Lola Montez”

3. Pearl Jam- “Sirens”

2. Black Sabbath- “God is Dead?”

1. Alice in Chains- “Stone”

And now without further ado, my top 10 rock albums of 2013:

10. Motorhead- “Aftershock”    

This year was rough on Lemmy Kilmeister, who battled through a slew of health issues.  However, Motorhead endured.  “Aftershock” is a testament to Kilmeister’s resilience and consistency as one of rock’s most beloved and unique singers. There are few bells and whistles here, few twists on the classic Motorhead formula of rock/punk/metal/blues guitars and rough-edged, acidic vocals.  Yet, “Aftershock” still manages to sound fresher than ever.  The album is simply Motorhead doing Motorhead, and doing it damn well.

 

9, Korn- “The Paradigm Shift”    

Korn benefited immensely from the return of second guitarist, Brian “Head” Welch in 2013.  “The Paradigm Shift” marks the band’s first album as a nearly-reunited outfit in many years, and their old chemistry shows.  “Love and Meth,” “Spike in My Veins,” and “Victimized” stand as some of Korn’s best songs over the past decade, while songs like “Punishment Time,” echo the ridiculously anger-driven guitars and vocals that allowed them to scare radio stations back in the early 1990s.  “The Paradigm Shift” has brought Korn back to relevance.

8. Dave Grohl- “Sound City: Reel to Reel”    

Ever wonder what it would sound like if members of Nirvana, Cheap Trick, Kyng, and Slipknot all joined forces on a song?  Well, thanks to the ambitious mind of Dave Grohl, now you can appease such fantastical curiosity.  “From Can to Can’t” (the aforementioned super-song scenario) is just one many interesting collaborations found on Grohl’s “Sound City” soundtrack.  Grohl contributes to original tracks featuring the likes of Paul McCartney, Trent Reznor, Josh Homme, Stevie Nicks, Lee Ving, and many more.  The twelve-song all-star sampling of Sound City Studios is an expertly-crafted soundtrack effort.

7. Nine Inch Nails- “Hesitation Marks”    

Hot off a stellar outing in the film-soundtrack industry, Trent Reznor gave Nine Inch Nails fans everywhere a surprising treat last summer.  That treat was “Hesitation Marks,” NIN’s first studio album in four years.  The album puts a fresh spin on the evocative songwriting approaches one would come to expect from NIN.  Clear standouts- in terms of such innovation- include “Copy of A,” a repetitious piece of clever wordplay, and “Find My Way,” a haunting masterpiece of dark meditation.  Reznor is a genius.  A genius in a mad scientist kind of way, but a genius nonetheless.  “Hesitation Marks” is stunning.

6. Queens of the Stone Age- “…Like Clockwork”    

It was a fairly long wait, but Queens of the Stone Age finally returned this year with “…Like Clockwork.”  The album is beautifully-bizarre in that distinguishable QotSA way, but it is also- at times- emotional and personally-driven.  There is no better example of this than “I Appear Missing,” a moving song about Josh Homme’s recent near death experience.  Homme has taken a fairly dark moment in his life and turned it into an overwhelming positive.  “…Like Clockwork” is quite possibly the most impressive and all-around perfect creative monument of QotSA’s tenure as a band.

5. Ghost- “Infestissumam”    

Let’s just get one thing clear right away:  there was no other rock album like Ghost’s “Infestissumam” in 2013.  The album is like a beautifully-painted, segmented nightmare of dark catharsis that slowly dances to its climax: the mesmerizing “Monstrance Clock.”  Think Blue Oyster Cult meets Marylin Manson meets Foo Fighters meets King Diamond.  “Infestissumam” is a reminder that it’s still okay to bring a fresh approach to heavy metal.  If you haven’t checked Ghost out yet, do yourself a favor.

4. Pearl Jam- “Lightning Bolt”    

There aren’t many bands as consistently great as Pearl Jam.  “Lightning Bolt” provides a logical next step after 2009’s “Backspacer.”  Eddie Vedder keeps to his usual tricks on “Getaway,” “Mind Your Manners” and the album’s title track, but he also shows he’s not afraid to experiment with different arrangements;  “Sirens,” “Yellow Moon,” and “Sleeping by Myself” (adapted from Vedder’s recent “Ukulele Songs”) attest to this.  “Lightning Bolt” shines immensely through creative guitar riffs and a beautifully-arranged upbeat/slow melodic dichotomy of tracks.

3. Volbeat- “Outlaw Gentlemen and Shady Ladies”    

This year was an important one for Volbeat:  “Outlaw Gentlemen and Shady Ladies” produced two of the band’s most successful singles yet (“The Hangman’s Body Count” and “Lola Montez”).  As a whole, the album is one of the most versatile and exciting of Volbeat’s career, ranging from the crushing force of “Doc Holliday” to an uplifting cover of Young the Giant’s “My Body.”  One could call it a sleeper hit, but “Outlaw Gentlemen and Shady Ladies” was nonetheless one of 2013’s most complete album experiences.

2. Black Sabbath- “13”    

The legendary Black Sabbath returned in 2013, and they did so in a huge way.  “13,” their first studio release since 1995, is so much more than a return to the motions that built their legacy, it is a nearly unparalleled force of nature compacted into eight tracks.  “End of the Beginning,” “God is Dead,” “Loner,” and “Live Forever,” include the types of bluesy/heavy Toni Iommi guitar riffs and spiritually-themed Ozzy Osbourne lyrics that will make listeners think they stepped back into the 1970s.  However, the songs also have a noticeable modern gloss that makes them all the more appealing.  If ”13” truly ends up being Sabbath’s last album, then let it be known that they went out with a massive bang.

1. Alice in Chains- “The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here”    

Captivating, proud, and undeniably robust in construction, Alice in Chains’ “The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here” takes the impressive post-Layne Staley bar set by 2009’s “Black Gives Way to Blue,” and shoots it to the moon.  Jerry Cantrell and William Duvall strengthen their chemistry in dual-harmony through powerfully-heavy tracks (“Hollow,” “Stone,” “Lab Monkey”), as well as emotionally-evocative ones (“Scalpel,” “Voices,” “Choke.”)  “The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here” is brilliant because it finds Alice in Chains blending their typical grunge gloom with a shimmering layer of upbeat confidence.  The album is evidence of a band focused on progressing an already-winning formula, a band done with drugs, done with grief, and done with doubt.  “The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here” stands as 2013’s finest rock achievement.

The Wrap:

Much like 2012, 2013- as a whole- was mostly defined by the success and sales of alternative metal and other variations of hard rock.  It’s easy to see that Alice in Chains dominated 2013.  The band provided the year’s fullest album experience, as well as three chart-dominating singles (Hollow, Stone, and Voices) that allowed them to keep momentum month-by-month.  Nipping at their heels were fellow grunge-era icons, Pearl Jam, and living metal legends, Black Sabbath, who more than proved their continued relevance in a genre they helped define.  At the same time, Danish genre-blenders, Volbeat quickly imbedded their way into rock’s top tiers, carving their niche- in spite of veteran competition- thanks to the overwhelming success of “The Hangman’s Body Count” and “Lola Montez.” Ghost, easily the most interesting band of 2013, also gained further attention with “Secular Haze” and the clearly eye-catching aesthetic appeal of centerpiece lead singer, Papa Emeritus II.   Those with a taste for industrial metal were treated to new material from genre-mainstays, Nine Inch Nails and Filter, along with monstrous debut tracks from David Draiman’s Device.

Meanwhile, bands like Cage the Elephant, Arctic Monkeys, and Queens of the Stone Age kept traditional alternative rock well-represented amidst an electronic haze generated from successful charting groups like the Imagine Dragons and Awolnation.  Other bands like Deftones and Korn kept consistent with the experimental sounds and songwriting approaches that have kept each of them intriguingly unique.   And who could forget Dave Grohl?  Sound City market a stellar directorial debut for the Foo Fighters frontman, and conceived a variety of interesting collaborative songs.

All-in-all, 2013 produced some of the most memorable and all-around impressive rock music in recent history, and with highly-anticipated new releases from Metallica, Tool, Foo Fighters, Mastodon, and Black Label Society currently on the horizon, readers can rest assured that the ball has only just begun to roll as we move into 2014.

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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.

Song Review: Volbeat- “The Hangman’s Body Count”

Volbeat have always been about pushing the boundaries on what is considered conventional for a major rock band, blending inventive metal riffs with just about every genre imaginable.

Where their latest single, “The Hangman’s Body Count” is concerned, however, the band takes a much more straightforward hard rock approach, using shifting time signatures and impressive lead guitar solos to keep things as fresh as possible.  Michael Poulsen keeps his James Hetfield/Johnny Cash hybrid vocals on a leash, but he still manages to whip up some pretty catchy hooks.

“The Hangman’s Body Count” isn’t the most astounding of Volbeat’s singles, but it is still a solid effort that will certainly please the band’s fans.

Volbeat- “The Hangman’s Body Count:” 3/5

Song Review: Dave Grohl Ft. Corey Taylor, Scott Reeder, and Rick Neilsen: “From Can to Can’t”

Rock collaborations are interesting, mainly because the genre’s variety of sub-genres and artists.  When artists of different styles come together, the result is generally a memorable syncing of different creative approaches.

One artist who has dabbled quite a bit in collaboration is the Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl, who has played with everyone from Queens of the Stone Age, to Tom Petty, to The Prodigy.

“From Can to Can’t,” a song that will be featured on Grohl’s upcoming rock documentary, “Sound City,” is no different. The song features Grohl on drums, Cheap Trick’s Rick Nielsen on guitar, Kyuss’s Scott Reeder on bass, and, most notably, Slipknot’s Corey Taylor on lead vocals.  This collaboration’s unconventional nature could be compared to that of fantasy sports, but it results in surprising chemistry.  Particularly, Nielson’s dark riffs blend very nicely with the angry undercurrent of Taylor’s vocals.

Strictly as a song and nothing more, “From Can to Can’t” comes up just short of being as memorable as the actual grouping of talented artists at hand.  Nevertheless, it is a solid song that stands as a testament to Grohl’s versatility.

Dave Grohl ft. Corey Taylor, Rick Nielsen, and Scott Reeder- “From Can to Can’t:” 4.5/5

Top 5 Worst Rock Moments of 2012

From the return of Soundgarden to the 12-12-12 Sandy Relief concert, 2012 boasted some great moments in rock music.  However, there were also several moments that a lot of people would rather forget.  Here are five rock-related moments from 2012 that I found to be exceptionally bad:

1. Ted Nugent’s Response to the re-election of President Obama. 

2012 has come and gone, and Ted Nugent is still the slimiest figure in rock.  In wake of Barack Obama’s re-election as President of the United States, Nugent took to social media and, as expected, reminded the world of how awful he truly is.  He blindly demonized Obama supporters as “pimps, whores, and welfare brats.”  No commentary needed here, Nugent has done it all himself.  During 2013, one can only hope that Nugent will make his way into a dark crevice, never to return.

 

2. Billy Corgan’s Statements about Soundgarden and Pavement.

During an interview, Smashing Pumpkins front man, Billy Corgan, took several shots at the recently reunited Soundgarden and Pavement; he subtly accused the bands of reuniting just to make money and of living in the past.  Keeping in mind that Corgan has had feuds on and off with Pavement lead singer, Stephen Malkmus, it was hard to look at these accusations as nothing more than biased stabs at an old foe.  As for Soundgarden, “King Animal,” their first new studio album in sixteen years, was released in November to widespread critical acclaim.

3. Shinedown’s lackluster “Amaryllis” 

Probably the biggest disappointment of the year, “Amaryllis” is dry and forgettable.  For as much hype as Brent Smith built for the album via Twitter, the album is almost entirely absent of clever arrangements and catchy choruses characteristic of Shinedown’s past work.

4. Nickelback’s release of “This Means War”

Take everything that makes a modern hard rock song generic, mash it together, and have someone chug a pint of mud before recording vocals for it- you have just written Nickelback’s “This Means War.”  The mere fact that this song charted in 2012 is unsettling.

5. Billy Joe Armstrong’s “iHeartRadio” Meltdown.

In some cases, Billy Joe Armstrong’s tirade during the “iHeartRadio” Music Festival was justified:  one does not simply cut Green Day’s set short during “Basket Case.”  However, Armstrong’s handling of the situation, while very humorous, was like that of a new artist with no perception of public record.

My Top 10 Rock Albums of 2012

1. Soundgarden- “King Animal”        

No contest.  Soundgarden have returned, seemingly right where the left off.  “King Animal’s” songs churn with crunchy grunge riffs, but they also find Soundgarden as focused as ever on small details and complexity.  Songs such as “Taree” and “Blood on the Valley Floor” loudly ring in the band’s return, while “Black Saturday” and “Halfway There” complement the album with a beautiful, acoustic shimmer.  This is the album that Soundgarden fans (and most rock fans in general) have been craving for years.  “King Animal” is the undisputed best rock album of 2012.

2. Rush- “Clockwork Angels”      

It has a big sci-fi plot, absolutely no filler, and crushing production value that rivals that of modern heavy metal bands (not to mention the most beautiful outro track of the year).  Rush’s “Clockwork Angels” is not just an album, it’s an experience.

3. Deftones- “Koi No Yokan”     

It must be easy for bands to become envious of Deftones; the band seems to be incapable of releasing a bad album.  “Koi No Yokan” is Deftones’ second album without longtime bassist, Chi Cheng.  With masterpiece tracks such as “Leathers,” “Entombed,” and “Tempest,” the band has continued to honor Cheng’s legacy in the best possible way.  Every second of “Koi No Yokan” tugs at a variety of emotional strings.

4. Dinosaur Jr.- “I Bet on Sky”    

Dinosaur Jr. released some of their best work in the 1980s and 1990s, but recently, they have been giving their classics a run for their money.  “I Bet on Sky” builds off the perfection of 2009’s “Farm” and takes it to whole new heights.  “Almost Fare” and “Pierce the Morning Rain,” among others, are some of the best songs the band has ever written.  J Mascis’s modest vocals and powerful guitar runs have arguably never sounded better.

 

5. Wallflowers- “Glad All Over”    

“Glad All Over” was widely anticipated by many, and it did not disappoint in the least. From the start, the album showcases some of the band’s best work of the last decade.  “Love is a Country,” “Constellation Blues,” and the Mick Jones-graced “Misfits and Lovers,” in particular, are very impressive cuts.  Jakob Dylan and the boys have found fresh energy.

6. Offspring- “Days Go By”    

The Offspring have continued to move in a logical direction with “Days Go By.”  The album shines with surprisingly captivating, controlled riffs and solos, all while echoing vintage Offspring  by means of “Cruising California (Bumping in My Trunk)” and the appropriate, burn out conclusion of “Slim Pickens Does the Right Thing and Rides the Bomb to Hell.”  “Days Go By” proves that the Offspring are beginning to truly reach their full creative potential.

7. Green Day- “Uno”    

For those who favor old Green Day as opposed to politically charged, rock opera Green Day, “Uno” stands as a major breath of fresh air.  The album takes the smooth production of “American Idiot” and “21st Century Breakdown” and combines it with edgy, “don’t give a f*ck” lyrics reminiscent of “Dookie” and “Insomniac.”  Uno may be Green Day’s strongest album of the past decade.

8. Bruce Springsteen- “Wrecking Ball”    

When Bruce Springsteen releases a new album, brilliant craftsmanship is usually a given.  “Wrecking Ball” is no different;  songs like “Death to My Hometown,” “Jack of All Trades,” and the opening anthem, “We Take Care of Our Own” prove that The Boss is still one of the best in the business.

9. Three Days Grace- “Transit of Venus”    

Though not as full or emotionally charged as past Three Days Grace albums, “Transit of Venus” stands as a strong effort.  Most of the album finds the band broadening their horizons with new dynamics and song structures.  However, songs such as “Operate” and “Anonymous” still give longtime fans a reason to listen.  Regardless, it is evident that Adam Gontier’s songwriting has improved immensely.

10. Stone Sour- “House of Gold and Bones Part 1”    

Despite the fact that Stone Sour have had quite a lot of success over the years, they never truly seemed capable of producing an album that felt complete.  That is, until they released House of Gold and Bones Part 1.  The album currently stands as their magnum opus.

Drowning Pool- “Saturday Night” Song Review

Ten years ago, Drowning Pool unexpectedly lost their original lead singer, Dave Williams, to heart failure.  Since Williams’s passing, the band has gone through a roulette of different vocalists over the course of three albums.

Now, following Ryan McCombs’s departure, the band has returned once again with new vocalist, Jason Moreno, and hopes to solidify a permanent line-up.  “Saturday Night,” a heavy, feel-good party anthem serves as the lead single off their upcoming, currently untitled fifth album.

The song’s lyrics aren’t exactly clever, but its arrangement masks this notion for the most part; surprisingly, despite legions of similar, contemporary bands, Drowning Pool’s signature style is still very easy to identify within seconds.  However, Moreno’s voice, though similar to McCombs’s at times, alters the band’s usual mudslide sound.  He sings with a rough, slithering draw that sounds like a fusion of Taproot and Rob Zombie.

“Saturday Night” barely compares to past Drowning Pool material, but it teases listeners with fresh potential.

Drowning Pool- “Saturday Night:” 2.5/5