1. Clutch – ‘Earth Rocker’ (Weathermaker) – Producer: Machine
For the follow-up to 2009’s ‘Strange Cousins From The West,’ Clutch took a step back into their heavier, more concise past with great results. All the groove is still there, the sound is at least as clean and organic as ever, and you will inevitably find your rump shaking while your head’s banging.
2. Red Fang – ‘Whales and Leeches’ (Relapse) – Producer: Chris Funk
This Portland, Ore., band has a remarkable story of musical lifers who finally got their break long after many have hung it up. The music is as good as the tale. Recorded in a hurry, but still perfect, ‘Whales and Leeches’ shows off the great songwriting and musicianship which justly brought this band to the world.
3. Kvelertak – ‘Meir’ (Roadrunner) – Producer: Kurt Ballou
Record #2 from Stavanger’s finest, and perhaps the greatest progenitors of the spirit of death n’ roll still in the game. No English, no problem. Both of Kvelertak’s releases have been J&L Top 10 choices. The riffs are that irresistible. Cover art on this one was done by Baroness’ John Baizley. The band hit the US road in 2013 with Black Tusk and Cancer Bats. Hopefully Roadrunner will keep them on tour in the year ahead.
4. Nails – ‘Abandon All Life’ (Southern Lord) – Producer: Kurt Ballou
SoCal’s grind/crust kingpins come through in spades on their third album, giving Kurt Ballou (who also did 'Meir') his second Top 10 production credit along the way. 17 min of bliss.
5. Dead In The Dirt – ‘The Blind Hole’ (Southern Lord) – Producer: Andy Nelson
The debut full-length from this Atlanta three-piece earned high honors. The band combines grind with death n’ roll guitar tones, creating a stew so vibrant it doesn’t even matter if you’re down with its vegan/straightedge social agenda.
6. Coliseum – ‘Sister Faith’ (Temporary Residence) – Producer: J. Robbins
Old-school, heavy indie rock, true to the band’s own “riff after riff” motto. This is the Louisville band’s fourth album, and the first recorded in Robbins’ upgraded/relocated Magpie Studios. The pairing couldn’t have worked better.
7. Carcass – ‘Surgical Steel’ (Nuclear Blast) – Producer: Colin Richardson
First record in 17 years (‘Swansong’, 1996) for this Liverpool band that reformed as a live act back in 2007. Jeff Walker and Bill Steer still guiding the ship. Have been hookier, but rarely more malevolent. Might also be the best SOUNDING record of the year, perhaps at least in part due to Richardson having produced every album of the band’s career. Loond’s Album of the Year.
8. Hatebreed – ‘The Divinity of Purpose’ (Razor & Tie) – Producer: Hatebreed, Zeuss, Josh Wilbur
Haters gonna hate, but Hatebreed have risen to the commercial top of the hardcore heap for a simple reason: consistent, anthemic, riff-laden and uplifting brutality. The band spent a lot of time on the road in 2013 supporting ‘Divinity,’ and look to keep up the pace in 2014, having already booked their European festival dates.
9. Queens of the Stone Age – ‘…Like Clockwork’ (Matador) – Producer: Josh Homme, James Lavelle, QOTSA
Queens’ first record in 6 years sees Josh channeling his inner David Byrne (among other things) to startlingly strong effect. The startlement comes not from ‘Clockworks’ quality -- it would have been disappointing had it fallen short of year’s-best levels – but in how naturally this new part of the palette seems to have come. We are reminded again that Homme has much left in his arsenal.
10. Kylesa – ‘Ultraviolet’ (Season of Mist) – Producer: Phillip Cope
‘Ultraviolet’ sees Kylesa upping the ante in terms of both atmosphere and heaviness. Urgency remains, but the production of band guitar player/songwriter Cope (who’s also worked with such other Savannah stalwarts as Black Tusk and Baroness) allows it to stretch further in both directions than it has before, creating Kylesa’s signature album to date six records in.