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.
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.