Monday, December 29, 2014

Chris' Top 40 Metal Albums of 2014

2014 has been one hell of a year for me. A lot of truly great things happened. I met some amazing people, started a publishing company with some friends, drank a ton of good beer, and listened to more metal than ever before. Way back in January I decided to keep a running list of every metal album I heard and enjoyed. Today that list contains 115 albums. To me this proves one of two things; either people who complain every year that there's a dearth of good metallic rumblings being released are idiots, or I'm not very discerning (I'm going to side with the former). 2014 was packed to the gills with amazing releases from both new and veteran bands, which made narrowing down a top 40 incredibly difficult...but I fucking did it! So, another year, another list. Here you go:

40. Funerary – Starless Aeon

39. Nightfell – The Living Ever Mourn

38. Nuclearhammer – Serpentine Hermetic Lucifer

37. Swallowed – Lunarterial

36. Drowned – Idola Specus

35. Unsacred – False Light

34. Primordial – Where Great Men Have Fallen

33. Mahtowa Death March – Mansorrow

32. Necroholocaust – Holocaustic Goat Metal

31. Sivyj Yar – From The Dead Villages’ Darkness

30. Bastard Sapling – Instinct is Forever

29. Forn – The Departure of Consciousness

28. Sacrocurse – Unholier Master

27. The Great Old Ones – Tekeli-li

26. Black Magic – Wizard’s Spell

25. Barghest – The Virtuous Plague

24. Pallbearer – Foundations of Burden

23. Alraune – The Process of Self-Immolation

22. Barbelith – Astral Plane

21. The Body – I Shall Die Here

20. Keeper - MMXIV

19. Coffinworm – IV.I.VIII

18. Irkallian Oracle – Grave Ekstasis

17. Artificial Brain – Labyrinth Constellation

16. Mare Cognitum – Phobos Monolith

15.  Fuoco Fatuo – The Viper Slithers in the Ashes of What Remains - This relatively young Italian death/doom band released one hell of a debut album early in 2014. The slow-mid paced rumble of The Viper... is ominous, monolithic, and relentless. Fuoco Fatuo is still largely unknown outside of the tape-trading circles of the underground, but they deserve a place in the upper echelons of doom.

14. YOB - Clearing the Path to Ascend - At this point there's no disputing the fact that YOB do doom better than just about everyone, and in 2014 they added another feather to their cap with the excellent Clearing the Path to Ascend. This time around the Oregon doomsters opted for more organic production (which was welcome after the slightly hollow sounding production on Atma), and emotionally bleak songs. Everything works, and it all crushes with the weight of a landslide. 

13. Execration - Morbid Dimensions - It baffles me that an album as good as Execration's Morbid Dimensions can get so little attention from the metal media. A blend of experimental death metal, tremolo-tinged black metal, and old school Swedish style DM, Morbid Dimensions is an absolute crusher from beginning to end. Never boring, and always flying slightly left-of-center, this one will get under your skin. 

12. Emptiness - Nothing but the Whole - Here we have yet another amazing album that went largely unnoticed in 2014. But the fact that Emptiness didn't receive heaps of attention in no way reflects the quality of their latest offering. On Nothing but the Whole Emptiness continue to churn out some of the most interesting and oddly beautiful black/death metal available anywhere. Mid-paced, plodding guitars drone and hypnotize before breaking into some of the weirdest and most addicting black metal riffs I've heard in ages. A must have. 

11. Raspberry Bulbs - Privacy - Nobody does what Raspberry Bulbs does...or at least no one does it quite as well. The weird combination of post-punk, grungy guitars, and black metal works so fucking well. It's impossibly simple on paper, but when you hear it you can't help but raise your fist and bang along.

 10. Dead Congregation - Promulgation of the Fall - There so few death metal bands that can produce technical and memorable albums as well as Dead Congregation. This year marked a much anticipated return from the Greek masters of modern death. After a 6 year gap between albums I was a little worried that Promulgation of the Fall might not live up to my expectations, but holy shit did it! It's groovy, technical, pummeling, and makes me grin from ear to ear every time I push play. 

9. Slough Feg - Digital Resistance -  I fully admit to being a rabid fan of everything Slough Feg has ever done, but don't think for a minute that that means they aren't deserving of a spot in my Top 10. On Digital Resistance Mike Scalzi and Company bring the weird like no one else in modern metal can. A mix of traditional metal a la Iron Maiden, Thin Lizzy, and early Cloven Hoof, Slough Feg have always been an acquired taste. That holds true on their latest album, but for those who can dig this style there's absolutely nothing better.

8. Gridlink - Longhena - It's always a bummer when a hugely talented band decides to call it quits, as Gridlink did earlier this year. The silver lining is that they went out with such a bang that every grind band on the planet will be playing catch-up for years to come. On Longhena, Gridlink provide the culmination of the sounds they created on Amber Grey and Orphan, by melding spastic hyper-grind with bright instrumentals and upbeat melodies. No one else does grind like this, because no one else can. 

7. Spectral Lore - III - One man black metal bands can be pretty hit-and-miss. For every Ruins of Beverast or Krieg there are dozens of lackluster imitators clogging up the genre. So when I heard about the new Spectral Lore album I was a little say the least. Man, I love being wrong sometimes! With III Spectral Lore has set a new benchmark for not only one man black metal, but for black metal as a whole. The musicianship on III is a thing of astonishing beauty; chaotic, atonal, lush, vibrant, mystical, ethereal, and crushing, this album is so dense but endlessly rewarding. This is probably the most well paced album of the year. Seriously, listen to this!

6. Diocletian - Gesundrian - War metal; not a genre a lot of people are fanatical about, but a genre that has become a go-to for me in the last few years, due in large part to bands like Diocletian. It's been 4 years since these New Zealanders graced us with a proper full-length album, but the wait was well worth it, because Gesundrian is a fucking beast! It's pure, unrelenting chaos from start to finish, and is a master class on the merits of war metal in modern metal. Pay attention to Diocletian, lest ye be CLEAVED ASUNDER!

5. Blut Aus Nord - Memoria Vetusta III - Saturnian Poetry - Over the years France's black metal scene has grown to become one of the most lauded in the world, and sitting at the center is Blut Aus Nord, whose continued exploration of the genre has consistently breathed new life and vigor into a style that often stagnates itself. This year marked the third installment in Blut Aus Nord's Memoria Vetusta series and it is nothing short of breathtaking. III - Saturnian Poetry is the epitome of grandiose black metal that harkens back to the frosty days of old and offers an emotionally compelling and epic piece of black metal art. This proves once and for all who the reigning king of black metal is; all hail Blut Aus Nord!


4. Teitanblood - Death - Five years after the release of their excellent debut, Seven Chalices, Teitanblood returned in 2014 with an absolutely crushing follow-up. Death is better than its predecessor in almost every way. It's more focused, more chaotic, more memorable, and all together more morbid and decrepit than any other death metal album released this year. The two-piece Spanish crypt dwellers that make up Teitanblood aren't just a flash in the pan, and the proof is in the puddles of blood dripping from ruined eardrums everywhere. 

3. Thou - Heathen -  Thou, the most prolific band in metal, also happens to be one of the best. I've been following this NOLA sludge/doom band for the last 5 years and I can say with total honesty that they get better with every release (which is a shit load of releases). This year Thou released one of the most emotionally draining listening experiences of the year. Heathen is one dense slab of doom, and with a running time of 72 minutes, it's also a huge investment of time. A lot of people might shy away from an album like Heathen because of its daunting run-time, but they'd be missing out on one of the most rewarding albums released this year, and in the last decade. Crushing, beautiful, and thought-provoking, Heathen is a masterpiece. 

2. Darkspace - III I - Darkspace has always been a band that I wanted to like more than I actually did. Their brand of cosmic themed ambient/industrial black metal sounded great on paper, but it never seemed to click when I actually listened to it. In 2014 Darkspace finally clicked with me. Maybe I wasn't in the right head-space to appreciate what I was hearing in the past, but something changed and now I can't get enough of this stuff. I think perhaps my increased interest in war metal and black/death metal trained my ears to listened to incredibly dense music, because Darkspace makes some of the most layered music I've ever heard. On their 2014 album III I, the Swiss band continued down the path they carved with previous releases, but this time they opted for 3 very lengthy pieces (each track is over 18 minutes long), and they use every second to add depth and atmosphere; leaving a final product that is so immersive it's impossible not to get lost in the cold outer reaches of space. It's almost futile to try explaining what Darkspace sounds like, because I think they likely sound a little different to everyone who bothers to listen. So I'll just say this; if you've ever wondered what a battle between alien races or a dying star sounds like, then you should be listening to Darkspace. 

1. ZOM - Flesh Assimilation - Let me preface this by saying, I never thought this would be my number 1 album of 2014. I mean, shit, it was only released 3 weeks ago; but in the last 3 weeks I haven't been able to listen to anything else. Every time I push play I think I'll get sick of this record, but it just won't happen. For that reason, and because it fucking rules, I am happy to place ZOM's Flesh Assimilation at the top of my list of the Best metal Albums of 2014. So how did this unknown Irish death metal band do it better than everyone else this year? Well, I'm not sure they did. What ZOM did manage to do was create the single most infectious album I heard all year. Every track on Flesh Assimilation crushes; every riff makes me raise my fist, every tempo change is perfect, every blast beat makes sense, and every line of vocals is vomited forth perfectly. Sometimes an album just hits you at the right time, and even though it might not be the most technically advanced or genre bending piece of music ever created, you just can't help but return again and again. This year ZOM wrote that record. It fucking rules. Trust me.

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