First off, what an astounding year. Was it better than 2012? When I compared my two files between the years, I would say 2012 had more material that was better overall. 2013 still provided quite a challenge for the top tier releases, in my opinion.
That being said I really did struggle with what came out and organizing it in any fashion that made sense. If you, at all, agree with my tastes then this list will probably rank fairly highly on must have releases. I was originally going to split the lists between Black Metal and Death Metal, however, when I looked at the numbers I couldn't do that. This year I purchased around 150 Black Metal albums... I only bought eight Death Metal releases. So I can't even make a Death Metal top ten. Then I looked at how many Atmospheric Black Metal albums I bought and thought about splitting it along those lines. In the end I've decided not to do any of that. I made a top 10 list in December and waited for the new Arkona to solidify my decisions. In the end, I decided not to change very much. I adjusted some ordering, but I just stuck with my top original top 10. Obviously it is not possible for me to hear all Black Metal released in a single year, so this is my opinion based on the releases and material I happened to be exposed to.
I follow very strict rules for choosing my top ten and this is why you may not see some releases below.
Rules: No splits allowed. The album must be full-length, so no EP's and no demos. It must be an official release.
10. Monarque - Lys Noir (Sepulchral Productions)
Sepulchral Productions as a label clearly won my heart this year. In prior years they have definitely released pretty good material, but nothing to the degree of material that came out this year. I feel like Quebec was the real king of Black Metal all around. Monarque has vastly improved their style, in my opinion, and released a truly stunning album with "Lys Noir".
9. Neige Éternelle - Neige Éternelle (Sepulchral Productions)
Neige Éternelle gave us an album that was an exercise in the old form of Black Metal, but it is so well done that I can't help but give it some level of respect. Perhaps I am being biased since their live performance was quite spectacular, but I still feel this self titled can stand on its own merits. Another spectacular band out of Quebec.
8. Manii - Kollaps (Avantgarde)
It's no secret that I have greatly disliked what Manes has transformed their sound into. So, I was very skeptical when Manii released this album. Some hope was given that it was back to a two man project featuring Manes original vocalist. I was not disappointed. "Kollaps" is an album generating a superb amount of wonderful atmosphere. I was actually hopeful that this would be the new focus due to Manes calling it quits, but then Manes started up again. I do hope that Manii will be a new Black Metal outfit for the two musicians to work together. Their Black Metal, to me, is far superior to their strange experimental rock.
7. Gris - À L'Âme Enflammée, L'Äme Constellée... (Sepulchral Productions)
This is probably the most controversial position I have on this list. I fought with myself long and hard about this. Gris initially appeared on my #3 position, but as the year went on I really tried to take stock of what I was choosing to listen to more frequently. Perhaps it's the time commitment for really absorbing this album. It spans two discs and is an incredible opus no matter how you look at it, but I think I keep passing it up because sometimes I just don't have the time to listen to the whole thing in a sitting. This is an album to be experienced, not something to be listened to in passing and perhaps I find the scope almost too grand. Whatever it is, I just know I'm not choosing it often enough to justify the #3 slot. I knew with my first listen that it would be in my top 10 at the end of the year though.
6. Seth - The Howling Spirit (Season of Mist)
Now this is something I was not expecting this year. I saw Seth perform at Messe des Morts in 2012 and I was pleased to see their return to the music scene after a long hiatus after "Era-Decay". "Era-Decay" hit my top releases for the year it came out when I used to run Hyperblast. I guess it comes as no surprise to me that Seth would hit my top 10 again. They are truly stunning musicians and I consider this one of their best releases and I actually think they managed to top "Era-Decay".
5. Paysage d'Hiver - Das Tor (Kunsthall Produktionen)
4. Inferno - Omniabscence Filled by His Greatness (Agonia Records)
I have been a fan of this project for many years and when I heard a new release was imminent I was truly excited! However, I did not expect them to release something this stunning. Prior to this, I'm not sure Inferno would have consistently hit my top 10 of the year. Despite enjoying this project for many years, they were never doing something that topped other projects. For them to hit back and land in the #4 position is actually quite a shock to me. I thought I had a clear list forming until Inferno put this out and I had to revise my list pretty drastically upon listening to this. They have really outdone themselves this year and I highly recommend getting this.
3. Plaga - Magia Gwiezdnej Entropii (Societas Oculorum Arcanorum Records)
This was a really unexpected release as well. I had never heard of Plaga before now, but this year I caught wind of this new band releasing amazing material out of Poland. So I tracked down what I could and eagerly awaited the release of their 2013 debut. For a band to debut with a #3 slot is pretty impressive. Plaga also forced me to make some major arrangement changes in my list. I know this has even hit #1 on some peoples lists, but my top two were pretty solidified this year and Plaga was unable to move them. Actually, when I had my lists split between Atmospheric and regular Black Metal Plaga was my #1 for the Black Metal list.
2. Sombres Forêts - La Mort due Soleil (Sepulchral Productions)
I've noticed that I have a slightly divergent opinion with a lot of other reviewers out there. Many consider Gris' effort to be the better release between these two amazing releases. However, for me it has always been Sombres Forêts which I loved most. I'm not sure why there is such a clear difference for me, but I felt I was drawn into this album so much deeper. So when it came to listening to an album of this nature, I was always going back to hear this again and again all year.
1. Csejthe - Réminiscence (Eisenwald Tonschmiede )
I had toyed over and over with the idea that Csejthe and Sombres Forêts should be swapped in my numbering. Sombres Forêts' style is arguably more grandiose and compelling, but there's just something about this Csejthe album that I instantly fell in love with. This is by far the album I wanted to keep listening to more and more during the year. I feel Sombres Forêts and Csejthe probably stand on equal ground and it truly is due to my listening to Csejthe more that set it apart in any kind of quantitative aspect.
Now to answer some obvious questions.
What Death Metal did I buy?
The latest from Centurian, Carcass, Hypocrisy, Hate, Misanthrope, Purgatory, Suffocation and Trauma. I honestly still haven't listened to the latest Hypocrisy yet. The new Carcass was highly sought after and was reminiscent to "Necroticism" and this was a great thing for some classic sounding Death Metal. The ones I probably listen to most are the latest Purgatory, Trauma and Centurian though. So, if you like my Death Metal interests you should check those out.
Any demo material of note?
Well, Ephemer released a second demo this year that I thought was very well done. If they had released a full-length I would have had to re-arrange my top 10 for sure. That's about all I remember for demo material. I picked up a lot of classic demos this year, but Ephemer is the one new one that stands out for me.
Who else was up for consideration for your top 10?
Let's see Falkenbach was certainly toyed with due to their incredible release "Asa". He has really outdone himself in that genre this time around. Cult of Fire almost kicked Monarque out of the #10 slot and I really considered this for a long time and, honestly, both bands probably stand equal for me. But I had to cut the way I ended deciding to deal with my list. Mord'A'Stigmata released a shockingly good album that I absolutely recommend. I heard about this through the guys in Blaze of Perdition, which I'm thankful for.
Nekrokrist SS put out a full length this year and if you're a fan of raw Black Metal then this is a must have. I probably should have tried to find them a space in the top 10 considering how often I listen to the album... but they are certainly within the top 20 range.
Throne of Katarsis released a great album this year and it's funny because I had always seen their name on distros, but never bothered to get anything. However, I was impressed with their stage presence at Messe des Morts III and decided to give their latest album a chance. It turned out to be a very good album. You should keep this in context too, out of 150 albums this year that I heard, they were in my top 20, so that's very good. Graveland's latest effort is also worth mentioning. Rob Darken always does great work and I've been following that project since "Thousand Swords" was released. It was a tough year for him to compete in though, but he usually releases material near the top even if it's not in the actual ten best.
For the general Black Metal category, I definitely loved Aosoth, Arkona, Endstille, and Deus Mortem this year. That new Endstille was surprising to me because I haven't really enjoyed a lot of their music lately, so for me to put it near the top best this year was surprising. In prior years I would not have even considered it. They did hit #1 spot years ago with "Navigator" though. Arkona's effort was quite good too. I like them a lot, but some of their music was getting a little samey, but with their latest I feel like Khorzon really struck back with a solid effort. Again, highly recommended. A lot of people are going crazy for the latest Aosoth and they did an exceptional job this year. Deus Mortem released a very stunning album as well and they've really built a solid style on the full length.