(Near the end of every year your humble editor humbly invites selected musicians to contribute lists of their favorite releases as part of our year-end Listmania series. This year I asked Ayloss, the man behind Spectral Lore from Greece and the creator of one of my favorite releases of 2014 (reviewed here), to share his recommendations — because I had a strong feeling it would be very interesting, and so it is.)
I don’t usually listen to a lot of music in the year it comes out, as not having the free time I used to have, I prefer to wait until the mediocre stuff gets weeded out and the good remains. When Islander asked me to compile a 2014 list, I realized that my selection was without much character, most likely the exact same stuff you’ll see in many other lists for this year. So I took this as an opportunity to dive back into the underground and do some research.
Yet, I still feel like I haven’t listened to enough music for this year, so this is absolutely not a “best of” list, just some albums that I can certainly attest to being great. In the spirit of discovery, I will mention the “top” stuff below (absolutely check them out if you haven’t already) and then proceed to talk about the stuff that deserves more exposure.
Saor – Aura
Thantifaxath – Sacred White Noise
Falls of Rauros – Believe In No Coming Shore
Blut Aus Nord – Memoria Vetusta III – Saturnian Poetry
Panopticon – Roads To The North
Mare Cognitum – Phobos Monolith
Morbus Chron – Sweven
Anubis Gate – Horizons
Spectral Tower – Spectral Tower
No, I’m not just picking these guys because they have “spectral” in their name, nor because of their awesome cover. Their EP is a monument to economy, all is simple yet totally works. I love the guitar sounds, effects, and bedroom production too. One of the best doom/blackgaze things I’ve heard recently (blackgaze is a terrible word, but black metal/shoegaze sounds even worse).
Northern Oak – Of Roots And Flesh
Excellent, serious folk metal with an atmospheric, blackened edge from this English band. Love the way they use the flute, almost like a lead guitar. Their musicality is also quite advanced, and the album is full of powerful, deceivingly simple, interlocking melodies. What’s cool is that they are a young band in which there seems to be evident space for improvement (some counterpoint leaves something to be desired, for example), but is still entirely fucking ace even right now. Great lyrics too.
Skaur – Gravoel
Although I’m not a fan of “Nordlanduberalles” kinds of messages, musically Skaur are in the top tiers of epic, folkloric black metal, with an almost classicist, high-brow attitude. Their biggest influence is Taake, but they might be or might become even better. With less abrupt changes and more cohesive structure, not many will be able to compete at this compositional level. This is actually rather old re-recorded material; their new album is out in January and is due on high expectations.
Ephemer – Gloire Immortelle
The Notre Honeur Immortelle demo was just barely in 2013, but as this LP by Eisenwald combines both of Ephemer’s demos, it will do. There’s something in their sound that elevates the simple melodies and transfers you to a dark, medieval fantasy world. Plus, with a title like “Vers d’anciennes cités magiques”, I’m right off to read Steven Erikson.
Howls of Ebb – Vigils of the 3rd Eye
I do listen to some death metal that goes by the norm, but it’s usually not… special. Most usually, something to listen to just once, for the energy of it, and then forget. Howls of Ebb is obviously not that kind of band. We’re speaking about ultra wierdness here, exceptional and unconventional composition, and yeah, atmosphere. Just look at the cover. Like some kind of horror circus caught up between heaven and hell (that’s what they mean by “limbonic death metal” in the description, by the way). Closer to hell, though, obviously.
Thy Darkened Shade – Liber Lvcifer I: Khem Sedjet
If you want riffs above all, T.D.S. can take care of that. It’s a kind of thrashy black metal married with the technicality and compositional attitude of Thorns/Dodheimsgard. Add an epic but sinister layer of atmosphere and you’ve got one of the year’s black metal tops.
Teramaze – Esoteric Symbolism
What a fantastic band, what an overlooked progressive metal album. Melancholic, brainy, quality never diminishing in 77 minutes. They’re also Christian, yet write quite interesting lyrics. Makes you think.
Nucleus Torn – Street Lights Fail
Nucleus Torn is probably the most underrated band in the entire universe. Fredy Schneider is one of the greatest composers who has ever passed through metal, even though his band is actually just playing metal 10% of the time, which doesn’t seem to have helped with either the metal audience, or the prog rock audience.
At their heart, they are of course a prog rock band, just with a chamber orchestra rather than the typical rock orchestration, which is there too. Their last album is their most dismal and down-to-earth, with the dreamy “medieval” atmosphere being reduced. It’s still a masterpiece though. Listen to this album and then to their previous 4 ones, otherwise I’ll kick you in the head.
Tengger Cavalry – Ancient Call
Yes, I am totally putting this Chinese-Mongolian nomadic extreme folk metal thing here, because it rules. Ok, maybe the metal is at times contrived, but the Mongolian folk is perfectly fused with it and there is genuine quality here that elevates it beyond gimmick or fusion novelty. Plus, it makes me want to ride a horse and chop some assholes’ heads off, which is always welcome.
P.S. Stargazer (perhaps as a middle finger gesture to end-year lists) release their new album on the 31st of December. I don’t really need to take a wild guess to know that it would end up here had time travel been invented, so go ahead and listen to the already released song. What an intro and overall masterpiece.
Editor’s Note: After Ayloss prepared this article, a full stream of the new Stargazer appeared on Bandcamp — popping up on December 2 instead of December 31 — so here it is:
Bonus list, because you shouldn’t listen to just metal:
Kayo Dot – Coffins on Io.
There’s little chance Kayo Dot would have released anything and it wouldn’t end up in my year-end list. This goes in a pop/new wave/80’s vintage sci-fi territory, not something I would usually listen to, but with supreme musicality and prog attitude they make it work. Of course they do.
FKA Twigs – LP1
Her songs are fantastic, so are her videos. I actually recommend listening to the music first without the visual part, as it’s too much information to handle. These disjointed, reductive, yet complex versions of pop songs don’t seem to make much sense at first, but when they finally do, it really hits you. Well, at least it does me.
Jon Hopkins – Asleep Versions EP
These are some ambient re-workings of songs from the 2013 LP, Immunity. Think of it like what Cynic did with the Re-Traced EP (totally recommended, by the way). The Asleep versions are obviously excellent, but what I really want to say is ehm, listen to Immunity. It’s electronic music that doesn’t any more sound electronic; it sounds human, deep, vibrant. And more transcendental than your transcendental black metal. Also, I’m going to totally steal and also post a song from Immunity, the best combination of video and music, like, ever.
My Brightest Diamond – This Is My Hand
This is the project of Shara Worden, who started as a back-up musician in the band of Sufjan Stevens (the best song-writer of our era, had to say it) and has delivered four faultless albums up to now. She has an amazingly expressive voice, great instrumentations with the expected neoclassical influence, and she mixes various pop genres yet somehow stands above them, like a poet who is obliged to express herself in a short newspaper article.
Solar Fields – Blue
I suspect that not a lot of metalheads will be into this project. There’s not much darkness here, and Magnus Birgersson does sometimes step into the new-agey, trancey area. But his sound design skills and attention to detail (oh, the glorious reverb) is spectacular, not to mention he’s a true musician, capable of great melody, unlike some others in his field. I could definitely call this prog ambient.