5) Code Orange, Forever (Roadrunner)
It’s hard to revinvent the wheel with a genre like hardcore. Lyrically, thematically and musically, it generally has a pretty rigid structure. What it does have going for it is youth and passion. Code Orange (or Code Orange Kids, as they were called until their second album) had that going for them for their first two albums, and you could tell they were on the verge of something. Signing with Roadrunner, who released their third album, found them successfully stepping outside the circle pit, with Death Grips-meets Nine Inch Nails-like industrial experimentation blending seamlessly alongside the nearly unrelenting heaviness. I say “nearly” because of “Bleeding in the Blur,” an anomaly on the album that alternative radio should be playing and could almost pass for a Smashing Pumpkins song. The band lives up to the mountain of hype they’ve gotten, netting them a Grammy and the undeniable fact that they’ve arrived.
Suggested track: “Forever”
4) Mastodon, Emperor of Sand (Reprise)
Not to take anything away from Mastodon, but their two albums before this, The Hunter and Once More ‘Round the Sun, found them deviating from the course that got them to where they were. Meaty concept albums about death and themed albums about elements might not have been super fun for the band to live, and you can’t blame them for writing a collection of songs about fucking on asteroids or taking the road below the high one. But Emperor of Sand found them not just back on track conceptually (an album about wandering the desert that’s really about cancer), but also, some of the heaviness and proggy weirdness of albums like Blood Mountain and Crack the Skye. Tracks like “Clandestiny” that start heavy then get super trippy are counterbalances by songs like “Show Yourself,” perhaps the poppiest song the band’s ever written. Sure, you’re not getting the Mastodon of Remission back, but seven albums in, Mastodon are still pushing boundaries.
Suggested track: “Clandestiny”
3) Mutoid Man, War Moans (Sargent House)
It’s hard to remember the last time metal was so fun. Cave-In’s Stephen Brodsky has been a great songwriter for years now. His turns of phrase and amazing guitar effects were used to great effect with his other band, but they went from essentially a metalcore band to a space rock band with a commercial detour in between. Mutoid Man is a three-headed monster. Brodsky’s vocals and guitar are met equally by bassist Nick Cageao and Converge drummer Ben Koller for songs that are mostly punchy, concise and riff-filled. The bass has as much drive as the guitar, and they’re amazingly tight on record and live.
Suggested track; “Kiss of Death”
2) Queens of the Stone Age, Villains (Matador)
See above about separating the art from the artist. Josh Homme admitted he’s pretty much a piece of shit, and the video doesn’t lie. Treating people doing their job like a soccer ball isn’t something a sane person should be doing. That being said, the band made a fantastic record. While Mark Ronson’s production made a lot of purists angry, the band haven’t sounded as heavy and groovy on songs like “The Evil Has Landed” and “Feet Don’t Fail Me”for years. Meanwhile, songs like “Un-Reborn Again” and “Fortress” are just great, catchy tunes. “And while this album certainly is more rock and roll than “metal,” there isn’t an album I’ve listened to as much this year, for better or worse.
Suggested track: “The Evil Has Landed”
1) Power Trip, Nightmare Logic (Southern Lord)
Having been first exposed to crossover thrash not all that long after it started (I know, I’m old), bands like Exodus, Cro-Mags and Suicidal Tendencies were the first bands to unite punks and metalheads, who used to hate each other. And while there’s been no shortage of bands that have kept the thrash genre going, none did it better this year than Power Trip. Easily sounding like they could have emerged 25 years ago, this is only their second full length. Touring with the likes of Lamb of God, Anthrax, Exodus and Obituary, the band have crafted an album that could fit in alongside any of those band’s classics. Winning over audiences at those shows like they’re playing a kegger in a basement hasn’t hurt either. Over the course of little more than a half hour and eight songs, the band have made a near perfect album that gets in and out and leaves you wanting more.
Suggested track, “Executioner’s Tax (Swing of the Axe )”
Royal Thunder, Wick (Spinefarm)
Toothgrinder, Phantom Amour (Spinefarm)
The Contortionist, Clairvoyant (eOne)
Kendrick Lamar, DAMN. (Interscope)
Manchester Orchestra, A Black Mile to the Surface (Loma Vista)
St. Vincent, Masseduction (Loma Vista)
Thundercat, Drunk (Brainfeeder)