The 21 Best Heavy Metal Albums of 2013

It's that time of year where our focus is officially shifting from reflecting on 2013 to preparing for 2014. Another 365 days have swept by, full of heavy metal ups and downs, groupies and drug overdoses, mind-blowing riffs and sold-out shows. The state of metal in 2013 certainly hasn't blown my mind--I mean, bad pop music is so pervasive in our culture that it's difficult for any other genre to avoid drowning in the thick, soupy droning known as mainstream music.

However, there was interesting music being made this past year, and lots of heavy metal news and some great interviews. And it was a busy year for Metal Mondays. In tradition end of year "best of" lists, here are a handful of my favorite Metal Mondays that ran in 2013, from interviews with world-renowned metal legends to the insane local metal scene.

In terms of heavy metal music releases in 2013, the bar was set pretty high; I mean, in 2012 I remember picking up a Van Halen album that was the first to feature David Lee Roth behind the mic since 1984 (and of course I can't forget some great work by Baroness and Gojira, to name a few). Then again, we got Black Sabbath's 13, the band's first studio release to feature Ozzy Osbourne since 1978.

So without further ado, here's my personal list of 2013's best metal albums. They may not be the most extreme in the bunch, but they are interesting and exciting, especially when it comes to the guitar work--some of them celebrate the purity of all of that is metal, while others even lack purity, messing with metal's structure and turning it upside down. But they all represent that fundamental intensity that metal has of tapping into something animalistic and pure.

Note: My apologies to Skeletonwitch, Rotting Christ, Tombstoned, Joe Satriani, Blood Ceremony, Kvelertak, Gorguts, Tessaract, Killswitch Engage, In Solitude, Voivod, Red Fang, and many more.

Amon Amarth, Deceiver of the Gods Swedish metal act Amon Amarth took their name from a volcano in J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-Earth, and their lyrics mostly deal with the Vikings' mythology and history. So it's no surprise that their ninth album, Deceiver of the Gods, is death metal gold, laced with Norse mythology and strong melodics.

Butcher Babies, Goliath This has long one of my favorite chick-fronted heavy metal bands for many reasons. Here are three:

1. The band members' energy is insane and they can pound whiskey shots with the best of them. 2. Their brand of bad-ass thrash and melodic metal will make you headbang for days. 3. The members' talents span comic-book-creation to acting and, yeah, music. Their debut album, Goliath, showcases the dynamic vocals of front-women Heidi Shepherd and Carla Harvey, backed with some great technical work from the rest of the band.

Ghost B.C., Infestissumam Embrace the weirdness and intensity of this Swedish death metal band--especially on this, their second album. The only way to completely appreciate this band is to buy into their gimmick, which they've crafted and (just as importantly) upheld like few modern bands have dared.

Front man Papa Emeritus II identifies the rest of the group as a bunch of "nameless ghouls," and the band's ritualistic live show in black robes and masks, with Papa rocking some striking face makeup, is as enchanting as death metal can be. They are probably the least heavy on this list, but what they lack in brutal thrash they make up in substance. Phil Anselmo & The Illegals, Walk Through Exits Only Nobody's in the habit of denying Phil Anselmo's talent at this point; his credits include Pantera, Down, Arson Anthem, Housecore Records, and many other projects. But holy hell is this album, his first solo venture, heavy. I'd have to call it one of his rawest, heaviest and intense projects since Pantera--even heavier, in fact. The songwriting is honest and pretty self-explanatory on tracks like "Music Media Is My Whore," "Usurper Bastard's Rant," "Bedroom Destroyer" and "Bedridden."

Ministry, From Beer to Eternity This album was a labor of love for Ministry lead singer/industrial metal icon Al Jourgensen. Beer to Eternity features some of the band's best songwriting and engineering, and was originally guitarist Mike Scaccia's project--but after he passed, Jourgensen felt it upon himself to finish the album "for Mikey."

The fact that there's a possibility it's the band's farewell album makes it even more musically valuable.

Kylesa, Ultraviolet Georgia's pretty damn good at producing great stoner sludge metal: In addition to Mastodon and Baroness there's Kylesa, who fuses basement punk and biker metal on Ultraviolet.

Singer-guitarists Laura Pleasants and Philip Cope provide a top-notch backbone for some serious psychedelic headbanging, along with the ability to capture the essence of their thrilling-yet-raw live show. Glimpses of early Black Sabbath.

Church of Misery, Thy Kingdom Scum Japanese psychedelic doom metal at its finest! Founded by bassist Tatsu Mikami in 1995, the band didn't really make it to the United States until 2012, after they had already put out five albums.

Mikami's serial killer fascination allows for some pretty crazy song-writing, and many songs tell the story of innocent children growing up to be gruesome murderous beings (i.e. BTK/Dennis Rader on Thy Kingdom Scum).)

Children of Bodom, Halo Of Blood This is probably Children of Bodom's best album since Hatebreeder, as they've continued to refine their sound over the past few years.

Halo of Blood is heavier than the band's previous work without drowning out their trademark melodicism and their subgenre-hopping vibes. Dillinger Escape Plan, One Of Us Is The Killer Good ol' Dillinger Escape Plan. When I saw them perform at the Golden Gods Awards earlier this year, and vocalist Greg Puciato went so nuts that he ended up leaving the stage gushing blood from his head, it renewed my appreciation in the band as a metal act.

They're not only one of the most imaginative metal bands working today, they're aggressive, distorted and melodic in all the best ways. From its opening riff, One Of Us Is The Killer gets your adrenaline pumping with a mix of angular guitars, catchy hooks, and heavy breakdowns.

Carcass, Surgical Steel Carcass provides a wealth of aural violence, and they do it efficiently and with distinction. This is the Brit bands' first new album in 17 years, but you would never know it; the trio burns through the 11 tracks with precision and a renewed bloodlust.

The anthemic "The Granulating Dark Satanic Mills" is straight charismatic; "Noncompliance to ASTM F899-12 Standard" has some particularly impressive twin guitars. This is a band that's back with a vengeance.

Black Sabbath, 13 The well-worn architects of heavy metal came back with an album that managed to exceed many fans' expectations, despite the layoff. First off, the last time all of the members recorded an album in the studio together was 35 years ago, and we all know how much the members have been through since that time.

Maybe most importantly, you would never know that guitarist Tony Iommi was ever battling cancer, because he sounds as strong as ever--his riffs are as raw and monumental as they were the first time I heard them.

Soulfly, Savages Soulfly's ninth studio album is one of their best, with poignant songwriting and guitar-work and some addicting grooves. It's also heavy as hell; musically, Max Cavalera and the other members are truly on top of their game.

Sepultura fans will dig it, too, as some of the arrangements are reminiscent of the beloved metal band's style.

Anthrax, Anthems I thought about not including this album since it's a covers record, but the thrash-metal icons in Anthrax just set it up it so damn well. This eight-song EP by Anthrax includes songs that all influenced (or are just loved) by all the band members, which makes for some interesting interpretations. Think AC/DC, Rush, Journey, and more, all with a little signature Anthrax flair. Death Angel, The Dream Calls for Blood Death metal veterans Death Angel really hit the nail on the head with this excellent classic thrash metal album. It combines power metal, melodic metal, thrash and black metal, with punishing fast-paced riffs from start to finish. With that in mind, you probably won't even know where it does start or end.

Dream Theater, Dream Theater This is another one that isn't super heavy, but the talent progressive metallers Dream Theater bring to the table deserves the recognition.

It's actually a pretty ballsy move to release a self-titled album this far along in your career, but it also makes sense: This album defines them as a band more than anything else they've put out to date. The massive 22-minute tune "Illumination Theory" is a personal favorite.

Alice in Chains, The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here Alice in Chains doesn't need much of an introduction. This highly anticipated release--their second since the death of lead singer Layne Staley in 2002--had me doubtful at first, but it's grown on me since its release in May.

It's riff-heavy, velvety, rich and melancholic, and a solid addition to the Alice in Chains' legacy.

Deafheaven, Sunbather This San Francisco band has made a name for the crossover audience it's found outside the heavy metal community, but Deafhaven is clearly dedicated to two things: technically beautiful melodies and their black metal roots.

On Sunbather each song is very different than the last, showing the vast range of talents that the members possess, from spacey atmospherics to double-timed pounding to singer George Clarke's gritty vocals and growls. It borders on romantic black metal and brutal indie-rock, honestly, and can easily evoke a lot of pathos and theatrics from the listener--maybe that's what makes it okay that the album has a pink cover.

Darkthrone, The Underground Resistance As one of the finest black metal acts to emerge from Norway during the genre's peak in the '80s, this album (their 16th, in fact) has Darkthrone reaching back to their heavy, classic roots. The band has made a few genre-defining albums, such as Transilvanian Hunger, and this one is no different.

It's pure metal: jackhammer rhythms, screams and growls, blistering riffs. Take it from me: Play this one really, really loud. Protest The Hero, Volition Let's face it: you can't always rely on solid heavy metal to come out of Canada. But Protest the Hero brings it hard and fast, even playing up some similarities with their fellow Canadian heroes in Rush. Protest The Hero is quirky and challenging, combining hardcore, thrash, punk rock, and progressive metal with insane talent and passion.

Volition is their fourth album and their best work to date, with some amazing shredding, vocal range and song writing.

Motörhead, Aftershock In spite of Lemmy's ill health, the 21st studio album from Motörhead got it done, and then some. Songs like "Lost Woman Blues" showcase a band that's top of their game, and not afraid of their classic sound.

The trio brings their raw power and their inimitable balance of heavy metal, soul, and dirty rock 'n' roll throughout this ballsy album. Oh, and they don't forget their signature speed and lyrical celebrations of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll. As Lemmy has said, "Motörhead is primitive brutality, I suppose."

Rob Zombie, Venomous Rat Regeneration Vendor I've long been a Rob Zombie fan, and while this is in no way my favorite album he's ever done, it's a keeper. It channels old-school White Zombie with some solid industrial touches, infectious grooves, and some delicious horror movie sampling and snippets.

You can listen to this record from start to finish, even though half of the songs may have you scratching your head--in a good way.

Asking Alexandria, From Death to Destiny This band really took their work to the next level with this album, and that level seems destined to earn them some big headlining tours.

Guitars are woven impeccably through such songs as "Run Free" and "The Road," and singer Danny Worsnop continues to stand out as one of the most charismatic dudes in heavy metal--as well as one of the genre's great growlers.

What were your favorite metal albums of 2013?

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Lauren Wise has worked as a rock/heavy metal journalist for 15 years. She contributes to Noisey and LA Weekly, edits books, and drinks whiskey.
Contact: Lauren Wise