Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Metal I Listened to in 2014 and Liked Enough to Bother Making a List About It

The year 2014 is about to end and it’s time for the traditional end of the year lists. When this year first started, I was pretty underwhelmed by the metal music coming out. Behemoth was an early contender and Cynic was pretty good even though I felt that Kindly Bent to Free Us was not as strong as Focus. But as the year went on, I found more hidden gems and the releases got stronger and stronger towards the end. Overall 2014 was a very strong year for metal. A lot of older bands still have what it takes and a lot of new blood are showing that metal is still capable of pushing the boundaries of the genre. So here is the list for my favorite metal records for 2014 in alphabetical order except for my absolute favorite which I will list in the end.

Abigor – Leytmotif Luzifer

I honestly haven't listened to Abigor since Nachthymnen (From the Twilight Kingdom) and that is an absolutely brilliant slab of black metal. Leytmotif Luzifer may not be exactly like Nachthymnen but it doesn't need to be since it has a more sinister edge to it.

Stand out track: Akrasia – Temptation 3

Aborted – The Necrotic Manifesto

Aborted is one of those bands that is fairly consistent with its brand of tight and brutal death metal. This year with The Necrotic Manifesto is of no exception. This release is closer to technical death metal with the amount of leads it packs but is firmly planted in brutality.

Stand out track: The Davidian Deceit

Abysmal Dawn – Obsolescence

Following up a top-notch record like Leveling the Plain of Existence would be pretty challenging for the average metal band but Los Angeles’ Abysmal Dawn succeeds greatly with Obsolescence. It’s still hard hitting and headbanging death metal that pushes the songwriting and technicality a bit.

Stand out track: One Percent Incomplete

 Accept – Blind Rage

Accept is one of those bands that you tend to remember for a few tracks, probably for “Balls to the Wall” and forget that they continue to consistently put out albums. Most bands of Accept’s longevity would be comfortable with resting with their prior success. Maybe put out a new album just to have an excuse but just play all of their greatest hits because their newer cuts just are not as good as the classics. With Blind Rage, Accept succeeds in creating new hits with political and socially charged heavy metal songs.

Stand out track: Wanna Be Free

Agalloch – The Serpent & the Sphere

Agalloch is one of those bands that I will forever support regardless what they put out and thankfully The Serpent & the Sphere is another quality release from this Oregon outfit. Really, there are no surprises here, just Agalloch’s brand of American folk/black metal. If you were a fan before, you will continue being a fan of them.

Stand out track: Dark Matter Gods

Allegaeon – Elements of the Infinite

This is another band that had a strong previous release and Allegaeon successfully tops it with Elements of the Infinite. While the music is pretty serious with their technicality and catchy songwriting, the boys from Colorado prove to have a sense of humor when it came to the music videos of “1.618” and “Threshold of Perception”. I eagerly await their future tours and releases.

Stand out track: 1.618

Artificial Brain – Labyrinth Constellation

The debut full length – Labyrinth Constellation - from Artificial Brain was a slow burner for me. This Gorguts inspired outfit eventually won me over with their creative songwriting and being inspired by the Canadian band is not a bad thing either. Plus I really enjoy the artwork by Paolo Girardi.

Stand out track: Bastard Planet

Aspherium – The Fall of Therenia

Melodic death metal has been experiencing a bit of a resurgence lately with bands adding a bit more technicality and not aping on Iron Maiden and At the Gates so much. Aspherium comes along with their solid sophomore release with The Fall of Therenia. While it is plenty technical and catchy, they add some progressive elements with non-conventional song structures and long songs.

Stand out track: The Revenant

At the Gates – At War With Reality

Speaking of At the Gates, welcome them back after 19 years! To be honest I wasn’t release anticipating this album in the slightest. I just didn’t want to get my hopes up and even if my hopes were up I would have still been blown away by At War With Reality. This album could easily have been a dud but they have written something that might surpass fan-favorite Slaughter of the Soul. It probably won’t influence countless American bands yet –give it about 10 years – but At War With Reality will definitely be remembered for years to come.

Stand out track: The Conspiracy of the Blind

Behemoth – The Satanist

Another comeback of sorts, Adam “Nergal” Darski having battled leukemia, The Satanist is also a bit of a return to Behemoth’s black metal roots. This album is dripping with evil and defiance showing that Nergal won’t be taken from a disease so easily.

Stand out track: O Father O Satan O Sun!

Beyond Creation – Earthborn Evolution

I know that technical death metal gets a bad rap what with it basically amounting to masturbating the guitar but I enjoyed the ejaculate that came from Beyond Creation’s Earthborn Evolution. While there is an emphasis on speed, Beyond Creation lets the instruments breathe once in a while, especially the fretless bass.

Stand out track: Earthborn Evolution

Black Crown Initiate – The Wreckage of Stars

Man, another young band out of the gates with a strong release! Black Crown Initiate makes their full-length debut with The Wreckage of Stars and if you're a fan of any sub-genre that has progressive and technical prefixes, you best check them out.

Stand out track: The Malignant

Bloody Hammers – Under Satan’s Sun

Okay, enough of the technical shit. Let’s enjoy some throwback heavy metal with Bloody HammersUnder Satan’s Sun. I love the cover artwork, looks like a 1950s horror film poster, and the catchy, sludgey, doomy, riffs of Under Satan’s Sun.

Stand out track: The Moon Eyed People

Cloven Hoof – Resist or Serve

Here’s some real throwback metal with Cloven Hoof. Having started in 1979 (with a hiatus between 1990 and 2001) they continue the New Wave of British Heavy Metal Movement with Resist or Serve. That’s basically what this album is, a tight collection of songs with great hooks, riffs, and solid production. For any fan of NWOBHM.

Stand out track: Deliverance

Cynic – Kindly Bent to Free Us

Cynic is another one of those bands that had an extended hiatus and returned with a great album – Traced in Air. Kindly Bent to Free Us continues what Traced started and is well on its way to becoming a full-fledged progressive band. I’m glad that the growls are being phased out as I feel that Cynic is better off without them.

Stand out track: The Lion’s Roar

Destrage – Are You Kidding Me? No.

This is another album that took me a while to get into as it’s a very dense and varied album. Are You Kidding Me? No. is a fantastic mix of thrash and metalcore. This is the first time I've heard from Destrage and I hope that they continue to keep putting out albums like this one.

Stand out track: G.O.D.

Dunkelnacht – Revelatio

This is a solid release from Dunkelnacht. Revelatio is modern black metal done right and has enough going on to keep the listener interested.

Grand Magus – Triumph and Power

Grand Magus continue to put out solid heavy metal with Triumph and Power. They don’t do anything tremendously different here but they continue with solid riffs and songwriting.

Stand out track: The Naked and the Dead

Grave Digger – Return of the Reaper

Another long running heavy metal band, Grave Digger continue to release solid metal with Return of the Reaper.

Stand out track: Grave Desecrator

A Hill to Die Upon – Holy Despair

The third album (and first one that I've heard) Holy Despair by A Hill to Die Upon is a solid slab of black metal with a bit of death metal thrown in. This album has enough to make it onto my list for this year.

Stand out track: Let the Ravens Have My Eyes

Inanimate Existence – A Never-Ending Cycle of Atonement

Similar to Beyond Creation, Inanimate Existence A Never-Ending Cycle of Atonement is all about technicality of the death metal variety. Quality music as well as a pretty serene cover of a mountainous landscape by Guang Yang.

Stand out track: The Rune of Destruction

Incantation – Dirges of Elysium

Another long running band but also pretty consistent in their output is Incantation with Dirges of Elysium. Rather than focusing on technicality and speed like most modern death metal bands Incantation continues to go for a slower, bludgeoning attack.

Stand out track: Carrion Prophecy

Inferi – The Path of Apotheosis

I think that Inferi is the only band on here to have a member who is featured twice on this list (Mike Low is also in Oubliette). The Path of Apotheosis is solid technical melodic death metal (reminds me a bit of later Black Dahlia Murder) and is worth checking out for fans of this genre.

Stand out track: A Betrayal Unforetold

Insomnium – Shadows of the Dying Sun

Shadows of the Dying Sun is a catchy but doom-laden record from Insomnium. This is what a melodic death metal revival should sound like. And it comes from Finland.

Stand out track: While We Sleep

Kampfar – Djevelmakt

Kampfar is one of those bands whom I’m aware but never paid much attention to them. I have Fra Underverdenen sitting on my hard drive but I haven’t listened to it much to say whether I like it or not. Djevelmakt, on the other hand, is an album that I do very much enjoy. Solid black metal that doesn't rely on the typical orchestral samples and has some really great riffs that are sometimes plodding.

Stand out track: Swarm Norvegicus

Lago – Tyranny

This is the album that Morbid Angel should’ve made instead of Illud Divinum Insansus. Seriously, this is basically Domination and Covenant mixed in, what you get is just solid death metal. And this is only the debut! I can't wait to hear what this Phoenix band has in store for future releases.

Stand out track: Father of All

Mastodon – Once More ‘Round the Sun

Mastodon continue to push themselves as musicians and songwriters with some of the tightest and catchiest songs they have written with Once More ‘Round the Sun. This is one of the few bands that is able to change their sound and able to grow their fanbase.

Stand out track: The Motherload

Miasmal – Cursed Redeemer

Miasmal releases their second album with Cursed Redeemer. While it sounds like old-school Swedish death metal, it sounds modern enough to remain fresh with some cutting riffs and more tongue in cheek songs.

Stand out track: Whiskey Train

Morbus Chron – Sweven

Another band out of Sweden and another second album release is Morbus Chron with Sweven. Although this band is less old-school death metal and more progressive, so longer song structures and such.

Stand out track: Ripening Life

Myrkur – Myrkur

Leading up to the release of Myrkur’s self-titled debut EP was quite a bit of hype for the fact that this was coming from a woman as the primary songwriter. It is unfortunate that having a woman compose extreme music is considered novel and noteworthy but if this helps bring in more diversity then I'm all for it. This is pretty solid black metal and I love how Amalie Bruun layers her vocals, especially during the cleaning singing on top of the riffs. It gives it a haunting and ethereal feel. I have a feeling that future releases will be even better.

Stand out track: Latvian Feguro

Ne Obliviscaris – Citadel

This Australian band completely blew me away in 2012 with their debut. I know I have thrown around the term “progressive” quite a bit on this list but this band truly deserves the title. Ne Obliviscaris pulls from just about every major genre out there and having a full time violinist as a member greatly enhances the songs. Portal of I was a stellar release and Citadel honestly does it better. This probably would have been my favorite album if it wasn't for another one to take it.

Nightbringer – Ego Dominus Tuus

I love how dark and epic that Ego Dominus Tuus from Nightbringer sounds. It’s like listening to a book of black magick come to life or something to that effect.

Stand out track: Things Which Are Naught

Noneuclid – Metatheosis

A side project from Linus Klausenitzer of Obscura and most of the members of Dark Fortress comes the second album, Metatheosis by Noneuclid. As I throw out the term “progressive” once again, I just want to say that this band deserves that distinction with the usually proggy stuff that happens to bands that dabble in that esoteric arts.

Novembers Doom – Bled White

Another long running and prolific band is Novembers Doom with their ninth release – Bled White. They have found their formula that works and it is one that I greatly enjoy. Almond crunchy riffs and deep, powerful vocals against strong song writing.

Stand out track: Unrest

Opeth – Pale Communion

Heritage was a bit of a contentious album for long-time fans, which I don’t really understand since Mikael Akerfeldt has always worn his love of obscure prog rock on his sleeves and into his songs. The next album in Opeth’s time traveling, proggy cycle is Pale Communion and it is a solid follow up that is better with solid songwriting and fantastic singing. Plus Opeth still isn’t afraid to experiment with their sound.

Stand out track: Cusp of Eternity

Order of Isaz – Seven Years of Famine

The debut full-length – Seven Years of Famine – from Order of Isaz is a brooding and slow trek through gothic forests. It’s the right blend of doom and gothic metal for me.

Stand out track: Screeching Owl

Oubliette – Apparitions

Here’s the other band feature Mike Low (from Inferi) and instead of death metal, it’s black metal, but it still has a technical edge to it. 

Stand out track: The Fog

Overkill – White Devil Armory

And other long running, prolific band with their seventeenth (!) album, White Devil Armory. Overkill is rarely mentioned when classic thrash metal is mentioned. It’s always the Big Four with Exodus and Testament sometimes mentioned if the person talking about them is aware of thrash metal at all. I think that Overkill could share that esteem. They've certainly been more consistent for the most part than the other bands and White Devil Armory is better than what most of those bands have done recently.

Stand out track: Where There’s Smoke…

Pestifer – Reaching the Void

Here is a death metal band that is considered to be of the technical variety but doesn’t rely on sweeping the fretboard clean or tapping the frets into oblivion to get their point across that they do indeed spend all of their time in their bedroom of their parent’s home. Pestifer relies on songwriting on Reaching the Void which sounds a bit like something that Pestilence would do.

Stand out track: Positronic Symphony

Portrait – Crossroads

I basically like this album because it is just Mercyful Fate and King Diamond. Really, that’s all you need to know about this band and their third album, Crossroads. Sure I sometimes I knock bands for being unoriginal and rip offs of other bands but when you pull from greats like that, I have zero issues with that especially since it’s not done enough.

Stand out track: In Time

Revocation – Deathless

Revocation are proving to be one of the newer bands to contend with, with a new release of some type nearly every year for the past four years or so that never falters in quality. Deathless is another solid release from this technical death/thrash metal band.

Stand out track: Scorched Earth Policy

Scar Symmetry – The Singularity (Phase 1 – Neohumanity)

Scar Symmetry sure knows how to make some damn catchy melodic death metal. Usually a mixture of clean and death vocals and death metal with pop rock would be terrible but they do it well on The Singularity (Phase 1 – Neohumanity).

Stand out track: Limits to Infinity

Sectu – Nefarious

Here’s another death metal band from Sweden but Sectu do more than just use the pounding riffs, they take a page from Gorguts and use the guitar to create some interesting soundscapes.

Stand out track: Tenebrous

Septicflesh – Titan

The outfits that Speticflesh wear for promos and on stage (I hope) are pretty awesome and dumb at the same time. You can almost hear the sculptured leather blasting out of the speakers when you listen to Titan. I just love how epic and crushing this album sounds.

Stand out track: Burn

Solstafir – Ótta

Basically any band that sounds similar to Agalloch in some way will get my attention. Solstafir did just that with Ótta. Yeah it might have more of a post-rock sound to it but I love the way it sounds.

Stand out track: Rismál

Son of Aurelius – Under a Western Sun

Another progressive metal release with Son of Aurelius Under a Western Sun. Not only is the music good but I also love the minimalist cover of a young boy wearing an aviator’s cap with goggles while holding a guitar.

Stand out track: The Weary Wheel

Souldrainer – Architect

The fact that Architect by Souldrainer reminds me of Hypocrisy is probably the reason that I enjoy this album. Plus, it’s pretty good melodic death metal.

Stand out track: Turn Your Back

Tengger Cavalry – Ancient Call

While I do like folk metal, I sometimes get tired of how similar it can sound. That’s why I’m glad bands like Tengger Cavalry exist. They are folk metal but instead of using traditional European instruments, they use traditional Chinese instruments and they write some good songs with them on Ancient Call.

Stand out track: Hymn of the Earth

Texas in July – Bloodwork

It’s been awhile since I was into metalcore. The last release I was really into was probably The War Within by Shadows Fall. Texas in July is a metalcore band that would have fit right in in 2004 but they do enough to make it sound fresh for 2014 on Bloodwork.

Stand out track: Defenseless

Thank You Scientist – Maps of Non-Existent Places

Okay, they’re not a metal band but I love this album so much that I’m including it on the list. This is really progressive rock that reminds me a bit of The Mars Volta and a bit of a Coheed and Cambria. I also love the use of the horns and strings to the traditional rock instruments.

Stand out track: Feed the Horses

Vader – Tibi Et Igni

Long running act Vader is back again with Tibi Et Igni and it is pretty awesome. Have you listened to them before? Then you know why they're on my list. You haven't heard them before? Why are you here? They are on here because it’s damn fine death metal. I’m not writing a review of them here, just know that they're awesome and are on my personal list.

Stand out track: Triumph of Death

Vintersorg – Naturbal

One of my first brushes with folk metal and still one of my overall favorite bands, Vintersorg releases a solid album with Naturbal.

Stand out track: Lågornas rov

Whispered – Shogunate Macabre

This is interesting, a melodic death metal band from Finland that has a Japanese folk influence on it. It’s done well and worth being on my list.

Stand out track: Fallen Amaterasu

And my favorite album of the year is:

Aenaon – Extance

When I first put this album into my 2014 Metal playlist on Spotify, I didn't think too much of it. It wasn’t until later when a song from this album appeared on random that it pulled me in. This is an album that when listening to the first time you will not be able to digest everything that is going on. It is a densely layered metal cake of progressive, black, and death metal filling. This Greek outfit is not afraid to experiment with saxophone (think Ihsahn) or keyboards or even venturing into some really dark blues. Aenaon faced some stiff competition but I kept coming back to this album. For being only their sophomore release, the quintet have shown that they are able to take on the metal world, especially if their future releases are as bold and adventurous as this one is.

Stand out track: Palindrome

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