Our favorite music of 2013 

Six Reader writers, 12 months, 30 picks—and not one list that just rearranges the same records you'll see everywhere else

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Live metal | Philip Montoro

I missed a lot of great metal this year because I've been writing a beer column on the weekends—not the worst reason to skip shows, I realize, but I'm particularly sorry I didn't see Agrimonia, Mutilation Rites, Inter Arma, or Cleric. My favorite live sets of 2013, arranged in chronological order below, include lots of old farts who won't say die, as befits a stubborn bastard who's trying to teach himself death-metal drumming at 42.

  • Kvelertak
  • Stian Andersen

Kvelertak at Bottom Lounge on Sun 4/21

I didn't arrive early enough to see front man Erlend Hjelvik in his taxidermied owl helmet, but everything else about this show was awesome. In keeping with the party-time vibes of Kvelertak's jean-jacket black 'n' roll, the sweaty jostlers in the pit were more like to throw an arm around your shoulders than elbow you in the eye—and during the last song, the band hoisted more than a dozen people onstage, hanging all four of their guitars around the necks of unsuspecting fans for an enthusiastically out-of-key encore.

Bolt Thrower - SARAH BENNETT
  • Bolt Thrower
  • Sarah Bennett

Bolt Thrower at Reggie's Rock Club on Sat 6/1

Front man Karl Willetts delivered his gleefully incoherent stage patter like an uncle who'd been overserved at Thanksgiving, but Bolt Thrower's swinging sledgehammers hit their marks every time. It was almost a bummer that this concert was so thoroughly sold out—not because Bolt Thrower don't deserve a full house, but because the band with the best riffs in death metal ought to be able to look out on a surging sea of banging heads, not a crowd packed together so tightly they can barely shuffle their feet.

  • Carcass
  • Adrian Erlandson

Carcass at Reggie's Rock Club on Mon 9/23

Founding guitarist Bill Steer looked like he hadn't aged a day since 1995, and 24-year-old drummer Daniel Wilding—not yet born when Carcass's first full-length came out—provided a precision-tuned engine for the band's terrifyingly graceful, exhilaratingly vicious death metal. I especially enjoyed the self-­deprecating drollery that bassist-vocalist Jeff Walker brought to his between-song banter—the total effect was that of a stainless-steel spider the size of a garbage truck begging your pardon before deftly removing your skin in one large, dripping sheet.

  • Obituary
  • Courtesy of Gibtown Records

Obituary at Cobra Lounge on Fri 10/18

Florida death-metal pioneers Obituary played lots of stuff from fan-favorite early albums Cause of Death and Slowly We Rot, turning this show into quite a lovefest—and that love took the form of a circle pit that swelled to fill half of Cobra Lounge's live room. (Personally, I thought the cutest part was drummer Donald Tardy singing his brother John's lyrics to himself as he played.) The lurching riffs, brick-wall tempo changes, and odd caesuras in Obituary's songs made for some confused moshing, but I reckon the band leaves those stitches showing in its music for a reason—to remind you that this monster is sewed together from pieces of corpses.

Maria Arkhipova of Arkona - NAPALM RECORDS
  • Maria Arkhipova of Arkona
  • Napalm Records

Arkona at Ultra Lounge on Sat 11/2

This was the most fun I had at a metal show in 2013—and thus this Russian pagan-­metal band becomes the first act from my previous year-end lists to earn a repeat mention. Ultra Lounge was much too small for Arkona (and for Arkona's boisterous fans), but instead of cramping their style, it seemed to concentrate their greatness. The air thrummed with the music's proud grandeur and feral joy, the windows looking into the bar dripped with condensation, and front woman Maria Arkhipova called for a wall of death in a room maybe 30 feet wide. Best of all, every so often she'd say those magic words: "This is a jumping song!"

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Danish String Quartet Mandel Hall, University of Chicago
October 28

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