(Today Andy Synn begins his perennial retrospective on the metal of 2014.)
That’s right, every day this week I’ll be publishing a new list covering as much of the past year in Metal as possible. For those of you unfamiliar with the way I do things (and for those of you who’ve understandably blocked last year from your mind), here’s how it’s going to go…
Today I’ll be posting an extensive list of the The Great albums of 2014, those I think really went above and beyond and which embody the absolute best that the year has to offer. There’s a whole host of different genres represented, and a plethora of different bands, young and old, from around the world and across the metal spectrum.
Tomorrow I’ll be posting about The Good albums of the year, another rather extensive list that runs the gamut from solid examples of the genre, to those albums teetering on the edge of greatness, without quite reaching the highest of heights.
Then, on Wednesday, you’ll be seeing the (potentially) contentious list of The Disappointing albums from 2014 – not necessarily “bad” albums, per se (though one or two of them definitely are!), but more a collection of albums that fully failed to live up to what they could have been.
Then, finally, Thursday and Friday, will see the publication of my “Critical Top 10” and “Personal Top 10” lists… about which I’ll say more closer to the time.
So, with all that preamble out of the way, let’s get into the real meat of things, shall we?
Ok, I lied… before we get into discussing things properly, I just want to mention a few albums that unfortunately haven’t made it onto the list, simply because I haven’t had a chance to listen to them properly.
This isn’t a complete collection of all the albums I’ve missed out on this year (that list would probably be even longer than the actual list, let’s be honest) but covers a number of releases that I’m pretty sure would be on here if I’d simply had more time!
Aenaon – Extance
Desecresy – Chasmic Transcendence
Falls of Rauros – Believe in No Coming Shore
Hadal Maw – Senium
Panopticon – Roads to the North
Posthum – The Black Northern Ritual
Stargazer – A Merging to the Boundless
Each of these albums would most likely have taken a prominent position on this list of the year’s greatest albums, and I apologise to anyone who’s offended by their absence. I promise to give them the attention they deserve soon!
Anyway, let’s get right on to celebrating the plethora of truly “Great” albums that were released over the past twelve months.
We’ll start off with a few honourable mentions of albums which, while not strictly “Metal”, are definitely of interest to our audience.
The strangely polarizing Devin Townsend (seriously, I guarantee we’ll get a few comments about how he’s “shit” or “overrated” or something to that effect) released the fantastic Casualties of Cool, while the Ulver/Sunn O))) collaboration Terrestrials produced an intensely rewarding experiment in sound and space. And, of course, perennial NCS-favourites Solstafir continued to prove why they remain one of the rock/metal world’s most uniquely compelling artists with the dismal beauty of Ótta.
Last year I stated that Death Metal stole the crown overall, while this year I’m pretty confident in saying that Black Metal was the dominant driving force in terms of both quality and creativity.
The illustrious Blut Aus Nord, exalted Primordial, and magnificent Vintersorg all produced albums this year which can rightly be considered among the best they’ve ever released, expanding and exploring their sonic identity in ever more creative and intriguing ways, while both Agalloch and Cormorant produced new albums that may well be the best things they’ve ever recorded (though I realise in the case of Agalloch that’s a contentious statement to make!)
Norway’s finest, Iskald and Kampfar, both produced career-defining albums in Nedom og Nord and Djevelmakt, as did Belgian blasphemers Enthroned, while on the gnarlier, thrashier end of the spectrum the triple-threat attack of albums by 1349, Goatwhore, and Horned Almighty provided a truly punishing array of barbed-wire riffage and blasting bombardment.
Dark Fortress embraced their proggier ambitions to absolutely brilliant effect on their seventh album, Venereal Dawn, while The Reflecting Void by Infestus pushed the band’s sound to a new level of desecrating darkness.
Winterfylleth’s fourth album established the band as future MVPs of the Black Metal genre, while the debut albums from both Sinmara and Ion planted each band’s flag as a band to watch very closely in the future.
A number of sophomore albums also appeared to push their creators into the upper echelons of the Black Metal pantheon, from the chillingly atmospheric Tekeli-li by The Great Old Ones, to the swirling psychedelia peddled by Hail Spirit Noir, to the monumental weight of Contradiction by Schammasch and the gloriously twisted, tumultuous torment of Thy Darkened Shade.
Oh, and we can’t forget Death Mask by Lord Mantis… just crushingly bleak and unnerving, from start to finish.
Blackened Death Metal underwent something of a creative renaissance too, running the gamut from the resurgence of the legendary Behemoth, to the ongoing rise of the ever-dynamic, ever-titanic A Hill To Die Upon, to the cryptic and challenging compositions concocted by Belgium’s Emptiness.
On top of that, the painfully underrated, utterly tormented Dodsverk by Horizon Ablaze and the mysteriously overlooked metallic magnificence of Deus Ex Machina by Vesania both established themselves as real contenders.
Now although I’ve hopefully provided some pretty compelling evidence that this was Black Metal’s year, that doesn’t mean that Death Metal didn’t put in a damn good showing too, particularly on the more technical side of things.
Absolutely devastating albums by Abysmal Dawn and Emeth provided a tag-team assault of pure sonic devastation, while Soreption – along with the debut album by Alterbeast and the unexpectedly awesome sophomore release by The Kennedy Veil — continued to push the envelope in terms of pure, fret-mangling intensity and warp-speed salvos of tech-tastic riffery.
Both Allegaeon and Ageless Oblivion continued to push themselves both in terms of their instrumental prowess and their compositional skill, crafting albums that were both intensely aggressive and innovatively atmospheric, while on the proggier end of the Tech-Death scale, Job For A Cowboy added a fresh new twist to their constantly evolving sound, and Beyond Creation somehow managed to surpass the sheer excellence of their debut with yet another album of perfectly precise and punishing power.
On top of this, the debut album from Black Crown Initiate fulfilled all the promise of the band’s EP, weaving together a host of esoteric and evocative influences into one beautifully coherent, effortlessly consistent whole, and the technically twisted second album by sonic alchemists Noneuclid managed to merge elements from Death, Thrash, and Black Metal (with hints of Doom and Prog thrown in for good measure) into something truly unique.
Out-and-out ragers by Hellish Outcast, Revocation, and Ancient Ascendant melded together the best aspects of Death and Thrash Metal into three albums that were simultaneously utterly brutal and yet brilliantly distinctive – as did the long awaited return of Cretin, who proved that absence sometimes really does make the heart grow fonder.
Finally, new albums from Misery Index, Decapitated, and Aborted all delivered some truly weapons-grade Death Metal riffage and annihilating antagonism, as did the sophomore album by Icelandic destroyers Beneath – a record which has been woefully overlooked so far this year in my opinion!
Moving away from the purely Death Metal side of things, while it may be divisive to say so, I think that both Arch Enemy and Unearth each released an unexpectedly impressive new album this year, and I’d say that highly anticipated new releases from At The Gates, Bloodbath, and Cynic managed (for most people at least) to justify the faith of their fans, many of whom had been waiting a long, long time to hear a new chapter from their heroes.
On the progressive side of things, both Spires and Ne Obliviscaris each crafted a truly multi-hued and multi-faceted album of light and shade, melody and extremity, while Nero di Marte created a phenomenally dense and multi-layered record that demands the attention of the listener from the moment it starts to the moment it comes crashing to an end.
Harder to classify albums from both Lascaille’s Shroud and Demonic Resurrection blurred the boundaries between genres with enviable ease whilst displaying some truly astonishing story-telling ambition, as did the shamelessly epic vibes conjured by Tengger Cavalry.
Doom – in all its dour shades – had a phenomenally impressive year as well, from the monolithic post-metal grandeur of Downfall of Gaia to the more progressive inflections of Giant Squid and The Flight of Sleipnir.
Triptykon produced yet another oppressive slab of abject misery and pain, as did their disciples in Kuolemanlaakso, while the ever-reliable Novembers Doom brought a heavy dose of deathly thunder to the shivering melancholy of Bled White.
Atriarch and Coltsblood delivered a narcotic injection of blackened filth and grime and doom-laden dominance, providing the perfect balance to the glorious occult incantations of The Wounded Kings and the pulsating catharsis of Yob’s Clearing the Path to Ascend.
I want to close this round-up by mentioning a few of the EPs that really stood out from the pack this year, namely the evocative post-black metal magic of Fever Sea, the stunningly atmospheric Days of the Fallen Sun by Junius, the groaning horror of Svartidauði, the darkly beautiful Asylum by Talanas, and the electrifying, elemental The Devil Within by Wildernessking – each one a near-perfectly formed, concise, and captivating statement of creativity and intent.
So there we have it – a hell of a lot of albums and a hell of a lot of music. Hopefully some of it will be unfamiliar to you, and you’ll be inspired to check out and embrace some new bands, or even just give some of the more familiar names a second chance and try to see them in a new light.
Tomorrow you’ll be reading (if you know what’s good for you) my list of the “Good” albums of 2014, so don’t worry if you’ve not seen certain albums or artists on this list. They’re probably still coming.
In the meantime, here’s the complete list, in alphabetical order, of all the albums mentioned above.
A Hill To Die Upon – Holy Despair
Aborted – The Necrotic Manifesto
Abysmal Dawn – Obsolescence
Agalloch – The Serpent & The Sphere
Ageless Oblivion – Penthos
Allegaeon – Elements of the Infinite
Alterbeast – Immortal
Ancient Ascendant – Echoes and Cinder
Arch Enemy – War Eternal
Atriarch – An Unending Pathway
At The Gates – At War With Reality
Behemoth – The Satanist
Beneath – The Barren Throne
Beyond Creation – Earthborn Evolution
Black Crown Initiate – The Wreckage of Stars
Bloodbath – Grand Morbid Funeral
Blut Aus Nord – Memoria Vetusta III
Coltsblood – Into the Unfathomable Abyss
Cormorant – Earth Diver
Cretin – Stranger
Cynic – Kindly Bent To Free Us
Dark Fortress – Venereal Dawn
Decapitated – Blood Mantra
Demonic Resurrection – The Demon King
Devin Townsend – Casualties of Cool
Downfall of Gaia – Aeon Unveils the Throne of Decay
Emeth – Aethyr
Emptiness – Nothing but the Whole
Enthroned – Sovereigns
Fever Sea – Fever Sea
The Flight of Sleipnir – V.
Giant Squid – Minoans
Goatwhore – Constricting Rage of the Merciless
The Great Old Ones – Tekeli-Li
Hail Spirit Noir – Oi Magoi
Hellish Outcast – Stay of Execution
Horizon Ablaze – Dodsverk
Horned Almighty – World of Tombs
Infestus – The Reflecting Void
Ion – s/t
Iskald – Nedom og Nord
Job For A Cowboy – Sun Eater
Junius – Days of the Fallen Sun
Kampfar – Djevelmakt
The Kennedy Veil – Trinity of Falsehood
Kuolemanlaakso – Tulijoutsen
Lascaille’s Shroud – Interval 02: Parallel Infinities – The Abscinded Universe
Lord Mantis – Death Mask
Misery Index – The Killing Gods
Ne Obliviscaris – Citadel
Nero di Marte – Derivae
Noneuclid – Metatheosis
Novembers Doom – Bled White
Primordial – Where Greater Men Have Fallen
Revocation – Deathless
Schammasch – Contradiction
Sinmara – Aphotic Womb
Solstafir – Otta
Soreption – Engineering The Void
Spires – The Whisperer
Svartidauði – The Synthesis of Whore and Beast
Talanas – Asylum
Tengger Cavalry – Ancient Call
Thy Darkened Shade – Liber Lucifer I: Khem Sedjet
Triptykon – Melana Chasmata
Ulver/Sunn O))) – Terrestrials
Unearth – Watchers of Rule
Vesania – Deus Ex Machina
Vintersorg – Naturbal
Wildernessking – The Devil Within
Winterfylleth – The Divination of Antiquity
The Wounded Kings – Consolamentum
Yob – Clearing the Path to Ascend
1349 – Massive Cauldron of Chaos