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Monday, December 30, 2013

The 10 Best Bay Area Metal Albums of 2013

Posted By on Mon, Dec 30, 2013 at 10:40 AM

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It was a big year for metal in the Bay Area, the year one band caught the attention of pretty much everyone, including the advertising team at Apple. That breakthrough album made our list, of course, but so did a number of other excellent local metal releases you may not have heard. Here's our roundup of the 10 best heavy local records of the year.

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Grayceon, Pearl and the End of Days (Flenser)

The term "progressive" when applied to music has been muddied in the last 30 years or so. Images of dinosaur rockers overplaying their Chapman Sticks usually come to mind, rather than a certain group of rock bands that transcended genre to create their own sound. San Francisco trio Grayceon definitely subscribe to the latter definition on their latest and best release. No other metal album this year was as haunting, ferocious, and beautiful. Cory Sklar

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Vhöl, Vhöl (Profound Lore)

We love supergroups. It's like when Hanna Barbera would have The Laff-A-Lympics and Yogi Bear would hang with Snagglepuss. We got similarly excited when we heard vocalist Mike Schiet of Yob would be teaming up with Bay Area veterans John Cobbett, Aesop Dekker, and Sigrid Shele (Ludicra, Hammers Of Misfortune) on the epic Vhöl project. Blackened speed metal with a hint of crusty hardcore done to perfection. Vhöl is the Damn Yankees -- nay -- The Travelling Wilburys of metal! CS

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Lycus, Tempest (20 Buck Spin)

Tony Iommi can't swing his signature Epiphone these days without hitting a doom band, but this debut from Oakland's Lycus cuts straight through the murk. In three colossal tracks, Lycus shifts gracefully from cavernous majesty to pummeling suffocation, particularly on the 20-minute title track. Lycus seems to have picked up where Oakland's now-defunct Asunder left off; it will be a treat to hear where the band goes from this promising beginning. Beth Winegarner

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Death Angel, The Dream Calls For Blood (Nuclear Blast)

An ever-growing legion of neo-thrash bands may be vying for the T-shirt and back-patch allegiance of metal fans, but pioneering local quintet Death Angel proved the young apostles can't touch the original masters with The Dream Calls For Blood. Still anchored by founding members Rob Cavestany and Mark Osegueda on guitar and vocals respectively, the band blazes through new thrash anthems "Left For Dead," "Fallen," and "Empty," which deliver furious riffs and memorable melodies with neck-snapping intensity. Even moodier tracks like "Detonate" (with its dramatic Morricone-esque intro) and the acoustic-tinged closing workout "Territorial Instinct - Bloodlust" bristle with a ferocity few bands three decades into their career can muster. Dave Pehling

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Apocryphon/Fabricant Split EP (Horror Pain Gore Death Productions)

Any old, bitter metalhead will tell you that they are kind of tired of death metal. It's a tough scene to be into when every show features 14 bands playing similar riffs for hours. Luckily a bit of light in the drab darkness of DM shined through when this split was released featuring Oakland's Apocryphon and Lafayette's Fabricant. Both bands have entirely different takes -- Apocryphon is completely spazzed-out psychedelic, while Fabricant harsh and demonic -- but their EP helped us remember why we loved this music in the first place. CS

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Hot Lunch, Hot Lunch (Tee Pee)

The band may be more proto-metal than true metal, but the self-titled debut of local quartet Hot Lunch packs more than enough heft to make S.F.'s list of heavy-rock triumphs for 2013. Nodding to the Detroit's MC5/Stooges school of volatility as well as the more obscure '70s riff rock of Sir Lord Baltimore and Dust, Hot Lunch delivers fuzzed-out frenzy on "She Wants More" and the wah-powered "Killer Smile." The band earns bonus points for transforming Emerson, Lake & Palmer's prog-rock anthem "Knife Edge" from a virtuoso keyboard workout to a doom-laden dose of guitar mayhem. Even as things get weirder and more psychedelic on the album's second side, Hot Lunch consistently serves up a banquet of head-nodding guitar crunch. DP

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Bl'ast, Blood! (Southern Lord)

The new version of the 1987 album It's In My Blood from Santa Cruz punk legends Bl'ast put out by Southern Lord stands as more of a complete rebirth than a reissue. Using the famed Neve console featured in his Sound City documentary, remixer Dave Grohl stripped away from the original effort's dated reverb-heavy '80s production and reintroduced tracks played by briefly tenured second guitarist William "Kip" Duvall (better known as the current singer with Alice in Chains) to stunning effect. The violent, visceral results reveal the envelope-pushing mix of headlong hardcore fury and dissonant, metallic riffs that made Bl'ast one of the leading lights of the West Coast scene during the post-Black Flag era. DP

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Vastum, Patricidal Lust (20 Buck Spin)

Vastum's second full-length proved to a tired Bay Area scene that old-school death metal can still be exciting, inspired, and even shocking in 2013. It's a maddening mix of filthy riffs and unsettlingly sexual lyrics featuring members of Acephalix and Hammers of Misfortune and one of the last albums produced by the late Jeff "Leppard" Davis. CS

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Orchid, The Mouths of Madness (Nuclear Blast)

While some might fault the single-minded Sabbath worship S.F. band Orchid exhibits on its second album and first effort for Nuclear Blast, the group deserves credit for exploring oft-forgotten side of metal's founding fathers. Looking beyond the down-tuned drone that dominates the music of many Iommi acolytes, the band captures Sabbath's relentless groove, and bluesy, jazz-inflected swing on "Silent One" and "Mountains of Steel." Despite the numerous connect-the-dot moments audibly referencing specific tunes from Sabbath Bloody Sabbath and Sabotage, singer Theo Mindell's powerful vocals and catchy, chugging riffs -- like the one that drives "Wizards of War" --  place Orchid firmly in line with past doom disciples Pentagram, St. Vitus, and Trouble. DP

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Deafheaven, Sunbather (Deathwish)

While the purists argue whether Deafheaven is metal enough, the rest of us will resume scraping our jaws off floor, where they've been since this album came out in June. The San Francisco outfit Deafheaven -- which began the year as a duo, but fleshed out a full band later on -- unleashed a stunning mix of brutality and sublimity on Sunbather, and deserved the praise it got. (And it got a lot.) Alternately majestic, ruthless, and subdued, Deafheaven leaps from one mode to another in songs that stretch from three minutes to more than 14. Long tracks, pummeling guitars, and howling, unintelligible vocals might not seem like a recipe for mainstream breakthrough, but this album will all make sense once you get into it. Ian S. Port


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