(Here is NCS writer DGR’s year-end list, preceded by a post title that he made himself, except for the commas.)
Coming up with an end-of-the-year list is always the most stressful thing for me, and 2014 was no different. It usually involves me combing through the reviews and going, “God, what the fuck even came out this year?!”, before I really start hashing something together.
Multiple events take place as I do this as well. I almost always wind up throwing onto the list a disc that came out the previous year — in fact, I’m still worried I might have let one slip by. I usually wind up letting the thing get way out of control, but I guaranfuckingtee you that the moment I publish it, I’m going to be putting one or two more albums retroactively on this list in the comments — as if it’s some sort of justice.
2014 was an interesting year. I found so much music that I enjoyed this time, and a lot of it not by bands that I listen to super-regularly. It was a lot of groups really coming into their own this time, or bands that, while good before, just put out massive releases. I know my top ten could start a couple arguments for being mainstream as fuck, but that tends to be my listening taste. I’m like a dog with a set of keys. They’re shiny and I love them, just make them jingle again.
This is how you wind up with stupid ideas like top 30’s that you then stress over and slowly chip away at. I basically wrote this whole thing over the course of one day and a whole pot of coffee, which I’m sure is not too healthy but in the grand scheme of things nothing I ever do in life is, and I hear tell that it’s all downhill after 50 anyway.
I’ve added some goofy scattered awards at the bottom, but overall, here is my honest try at archiving the discs that grabbed me and would not let go at all this year — including one honorable mention. See you at the bottom.
Honorable Mention: Psygnosis – Human Be[ing]
France’s Psygnosis were a damned tough cut for me because this is an interesting as hell disc. It’s probably the most sparse death metal album I’ve heard in some time. Psygnosis use a huge amount of ambience and movie samples to make each album tell a story, dedicating almost half a song to a monologue at one point. Human Be[ing] is a super-interesting concept album and one that I enjoy tremendously. It doesn’t shuffle especially well, but this is a disc meant for full runs. It takes on a dreamlike quality and at the same time has huge, heavy moments spread throughout the whole CD. It’s my one, real tough cut for this list of thirty massive albums and that’s only because I couldn’t figure out whether it would be funny or not to have a Top Thirty-one this year. Don’t sleep on this release.
30) Wretched – Cannibal
Wretched are a band who find themselves in a weird spot. One of those criminally underrated yet often-cited bands by people who love guitar. They came up during the metalcore explosion of the mid-aughts and even signed to a label known for endless breakdowns, yet were a group that were always verging more toward a technically focused melo-death or, as is mentioned quite a bit in PR releases, a “thrash focused” approach to metal.
The part of this story that has been a little nervewracking is that with a switch of vocalists and a lineup change, the group have released some of the best material they’ve ever done in 2012’s Son of Perdition — an album seemingly written in a super-fast panic and feeling like it — and the more chaotic and refined 2014 release Cannibal.
It should be mentioned for the sake of transparency that I am a huge fan of Adam Cody’s panicked and rapid vocal delivery. The man never sounds like he is not losing his mind, and combined with Wretched’s violently fast tendencies, the group have released a really fast and varied disc in Cannibal.
Cannibal is one of those discs that is usually coupled with a heavy sigh on my end because it feels like more people should at least have these guys on their radar, and I can’t quite pin down why they aren’t. There are two instrumental breathers on this album and a transformation into Behemoth in the opening, but other than that Wretched put a frightening weight on the accelerator and let their car go flying over the side of a cliff; Cannibal feels like the scream of its passengers the whole way down and the resulting totally-not-Hollywood-science explosion at the bottom.
29) Whitechapel – Our Endless War
In some ways, you could probably view me posting this so high on the list as a way to weed folks out — because I figure this is about the time where people will see the name and cover art and either a) immediately rage and close the window, or b) shrug and scroll down the list without reading anything else because I have completely discredited myself by daring to commit the egregious sin against metal of acknowledging that Whitechapel ain’t half bad, and haven’t been so for some time.
While it is still beefy death core, the band have slowly moved closer and closer to sounding like a groove-heavy Vader, and Our Endless War is their most varied exercise in music to date. It has its hits and misses, and isn’t quite on its “A” game like the self-titled was, but Our Endless War gets by on some pretty standout tracks. The title song was an unexpected and out of nowhere, super-catchy thrash song, and even the simple brutality of “Saw Is The Law” is still able to get its head bobbing. Much of Our Endless War goes at the pace of music I love, which is really fast, and Whitechapel are shedding more and more of their -core aspect as time moves on.
While it seems like the group will likely never be forgiven, I’ll end this in the same way I’ve ended every discussion I have about this band now: Yes, their early stuff is deathcore defined, that’s why they got as big as they are, but nowadays the band are something different and they’ve shown with the self-titled and Our Endless War that they are capable of writing some super-heavy and proper death metal songs.
28) Hyperial – Blood And Dust
Hyperial sound like a brutal death band from the future. It seems like the symphonic deathcore thing has faded somewhat, especially as groups like The Breathing Process have found themselves with extended periods of silence, but Hyperial take that genre, shed as much of the -core aspect as possible, and run with it.
Every song is about as caveman-written as possible, built around these huge chugs and massive bombing runs of blastbeats, punctuated with some heavy keyboard theatrics and pig-squeal filtered through a black metal vocalist’s style. Blood and Dust even closes with a massive cover of the Tower song “Luciferion” — which, while it feels like cheating because “Luciferion” is already a pretty good song and Hyperial play the thing damned straight — has quickly become one of my favorites on the album.
If you’re looking for a future, post-apocalyptic album covered in a heavy technological sheen, then Blood and Dust is a route worth traveling. The picture they paint in their music is a huge, sprawling wasteland, and the music matches it to a “T”.
27) Noctem – Exilium
Noctem have gotten better with each disc. Bar none, Exilium is pretty much at the top of the heap, and the band accomplished it by becoming a super-sleek battle-cat form of what they were when they first released Divinity. While the group get dangerously close to sounding like a Spain-based version of Kataklysm’s latest release, Noctem know just when to punch out from being a super-defined death metal group and to muddy the waters just enough so as to sound as ugly as they appear in some of their videos.
Exilium has the band doing what they do best, only now they’ve had three albums to really forge their craft and have fallen on a faster and more melodic side of the death metal spectrum (though vocalist Beleth’s hoarse roars and fierce bellows would prefer that you see otherwise). The guitar work on Exilium sees so many leads trading off, and different rhythms being birthed into space and then disappearing into unknown dimensions at such a fast pace, that merely calling it “pyrotechnic” would be a waste of the word. Not only that, but the band have expanded upon Exilum somewhat for a US release that hit our shores through Prosthetic Records — included on it is a hell of a song in “Divine Xibalba”, which is just over a minute and a half of complete devastation.
While the band are still fighting hook and claw for every listener they can find, I have to imagine that Exilium has made the task just a tad bit easier.
26) Woccon – Solace In Decay
Woccon were a pleasant surprise for 2014, their album coming out in the back half of the year from a region known for a ton of music, but not necessarily one that has generated a huge amount of melodic doom bands. The United States, in general, doesn’t seem to have many such bands who break the surface, and the genre is one of the few sub-groupings of metal that has remained starkly European over the years. Recently though, there’s been an upswell of groups in the States seeking to join in on the fun, and Woccon is one of the latest additions, finding themselves in a similar sphere as brethren Daylight Dies and Insomnium.
Their music is designed to feel cold and stark; the group have found a friend in misery and seek to share that fragile, broken sort of beauty with the world. There’s no lie about it, Woccon do play into some of the doom tropes on Solace In Decay, but you can’t really fault them when they recognize it and proceed to throw their all into it.
Yes, there is absolutely a piano-set-against-the-sound-of-rain-falling track on this album, but the music is composed well enough that it hardly highlights the fact that this is a familiar step. In their own music, the band know exactly when to build up a huge amount of atmosphere and then let the storm clouds open up and the downpour begin. They’ve mastered the difficult act of weaving some huge melodies throughout all their songs, specifically on guitar, and it’s resulted in Solace In Decay becoming a back-half-of-the-year staple while I enjoy the one huge rainstorm this region is probably going to see for the next eight months.
25) Allegeaon – Elements Of The Infinite
Allegeaon are one of the few bands out there who make me feel terrible as a former musician. They play an impressively intricate form of metal that bounces between death, tech-death, and melo-death at the drop of a hat. When they released Formshifter I found an album that was technically goddamned great, but suffered from some flaws in terms of pacing and had issues with some of the songs starting to sound the same as the runtime went on. In the case of Elements Of The Infinite it seems like the group recognized those issues and have released an album that has some of the most mature songwriting from this band to date.
Every song on Elements has its own little tweak to the Allegeaon formula and goes through multiple arcs in the span of the average four-to-five minute length. There are some epic tracks on the album, coupled with massive orchestration or huge walls of guitar just crashing down from the sky. Elements is one of those discs where there really isn’t a bad track on it, and hearing these guys get more exploratory within the confines of their songwriting is an adventure in its own right. It is one of those discs where no matter the chosen instrument, you are likely to find something to lock your attention to, as there is always some impressive playing happening.
Elements truly makes one hope for another release from this band, because if they keep improving upon their sound as they did with this disc, then the next one should be in-fucking-credible.
24) Gridlink – Longhena
It is a shame that Gridlink are currently on hold because Longhena is a disc that, if you make it past its misleading album art, is one of utter chaos jammed into a handful of tracks. Gridlink are the terrorists of the mp3 shuffle feature, and Longhena is the latest bombshell dropped on an unsuspecting listener.
They embody the grind aspect of hitting so fast and getting out that is like being killed by a sniper; you never see it coming and the gunshot sound happens long after they’ve disappeared. You’ll be listening to your usual death metal, three-to-four minute tracks, just coasting through your listening day, and then all of a sudden, “YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGH” and then silence. Gridlink explode into sound and then just as quickly implode back into silence.
It’s hard to pin down one song that I can recommend simply because you can do the whole disc multiple times in an hour — it’s perfectly suited to being as loud as possible and has a good knack for getting you lost as to what song you’re on. This is one of a handful of albums on my list that feels like chaos incarnate.
23) Revocation – Deathless
I have absolutely no idea how Revocation are able to keep up the album release and touring schedule that they do. Barring a couple years when they released EPs and singles instead of full albums, Revocation have built themselves a fortress of music on a yearly basis. If you count Teratogenesis, which I do, given that it is one of the best things Revocation have done, then since Chaos of Forms the band have put out a big release each year. That they do so without much of it becoming a faceless morass of, “Holy shit we need to write something because we have a new label contract”, is an amazing act.
Deathless is the latest in that swarm of releases, and although it’s a victim of hitting late in the year for me, it is up there really high in Revocation’s discography. For someone like me who has never been adept with a guitar, to the point of being outplaying by a 2×4 with hands drawn on it, Revocation have always been one of those bands whose guitar work never fails to impress. Of course, it would also be a faux pas not to mention that longtime drummer Phil Dubois-Coyne is a goddamned machine behind that kit and keeps the group going at a pretty consistent speed as close to light’s own limit as possible.
Deathless is a varied mix of songs that is stronger than last year’s self-titled release, which itself was still a pretty good album. If you love guitar, or have been a huge fan of Revocation’s constant melding of death metal with their fusion of prig’s technically focused guitar machinations and thrash metal’s speed and ferocity, then Deathless is another one that needs to be added to the collection.
22) The Haunted – Exit Wounds
The Haunted found themselves in a tough spot with Exit Wounds. The group’s highly publicized exodus of members, alongside a release that folks still don’t know how to wrap their heads around in 2012’s Unseen, left them looking like they were on their knees. Their eventual reformation with members old and new changed things up for the band’s fortunes, and the return of vocalist Marco Aro garnered the album a whole lot of hype it wouldn’t otherwise have had. Of course, it’s still in a strange spot, because it was clear a lot of people didn’t quite cotton to Unseen (I enjoyed it for what it was) but the band also had to avoid appearing like they were just retreading old ground.
Exit Wounds excels for the most part, unleashing some of the most ferocious stuff that they’ve done. New guitarist Ola Englund folded into the ranks immediately, and honestly, even with the differing lineup The Haunted still have their evil take on thrash and melo-death down pat. Exit Wounds has Marco Aro exploding outward in his anger and much of the album feels like an exorcism of working out different issues. The band also take advantage of the giant slab of material to even get a little strange, and surprisingly it works and results in a song like “Trendkiller”.
Of course, anyone looking for the soundtrack to a beating can find songs like “Cutting Teeth” and my personal fave, the one-minute long “My Enemy”, but Exit Wounds is paced so well that you can do multiple spins without getting bored. While it wasn’t a revolution in sound for them, Exit Wounds still allows many of the faithful to plant a solid flag in the ground proclaiming that, yes, The Haunted are back.
21) Alterbeast – Immortal
It’s a cool feeling to be able to post about a local group putting out one of your favorite discs in a given year, and 2014 provides another opportunity for me to do so. With Raymond Swanland-created cover art and a knack for guitar pyrotechnics, Alterbeast come out screaming from the heavens and don’t cease doing so until the last track wraps up. It’s a technical death metal clusterfuck played at hyperfast speeds combined with a Black Dahlia Murder-esque sense for groove-heavy rhythms; the guys in Alterbeast are making a lot of noise and getting attention for it.
While the band have already had a lineup change since this disc hit in March, with new vocalist Monte Bernard stepping in to replace vocalist Cam Rogers, which is a little bit frightening, the band still have a weapon in Immortal. “Flesh Bound Text” makes a massive first impression, and from then on the group don’t let up, from the Frankenstein’s monster clubbing of “Mutilated Marvel” to the surgical precision of a song like “Serpentspire”.
This group should have tremendous appeal to those who want their death metal played at hyperfast speeds. If you love drumming, you also need to listen to this disc because drummer Gabe Seeber turns in a monstrous performance (alongside an already monstrous one with his group The Kennedy Veil, whose album Trinity Of Falsehood hit in January), one that just makes it seem so easy that you can’t help but feel helpless in its presence.
20) Separatist – Closure
Two reasons why I am tremendously excited to have Separatist make this list: One is that the cover art for Closure is just so brutal and understated, and the other is that for a while, this disc was an obsession. It is a huge mass of death metal, made to sound like (and conceptually is) the result of the end of the world. Closure is a concept disc that follows a group of people after the rapture and how they survive, resulting in multiple acts of immolation, war, cannibalism, and the various other things that a desperate humanity is prone to do when we believe we have angered our gods.
Closure is a huge blur of an album, and the experience is like suffocating under a huge weight. It’s such a massive and monstrous disc and one that is almost unfeeling in its brutality. While I’m not sure what the current status is on Separatist, given that it was initially the swansong of a group who had originally lost this disc and called it quits, the signing to Subliminal Groove Records has certainly brightened the prospects of there being more apocalyptic death metal from this project.
If you’re a huge fan of cavernous, bullet-ridden, and muck-covered death metal albums with a hint of Cro-Magnon brutality, then Closure is a disc that you should for sure check out.
19) Bloodbath – Grand Morbid Funeral
This is an album that is an unfortunate victim of time, in that it hit so late in the year that I’m not really sure where it should stand among my top albums of the year. I knew from the moment I started writing my review that I immensely enjoyed it and that it would certainly have a place on this list, but the month or so that I’ve had with it hasn’t fully allowed it to age in a way that gives me a true perspective on it.
I did figure out how much I liked it in comparison to other releases this year, though, which is something I can only equate to a Herculean task. I love Bloodbath’s take on death metal, even if the whole purpose of it is to be a throwback in style to earlier bands. They’ve amassed a pretty monstrous collection of music so far, and Grand Morbid Funeral is a fine addition to the pile.
The band find themselves with a new vocalist, one that I imagine many folks were curious to hear, especially after learning that Paradise Lost frontman Nick Holmes was going to be the grand marshal of this funeral procession. He creates for himself a character known as Old Nick, and his vocal stylings, a grim rasp and growl, fit well alongside the slightly dirtier take on music that should take fans back to the group’s Resurrection Through Carnage release.
There’s some ultra-violent, fast, campy, and disgusting music at play during Grand Morbid Funeral’s runtime. It’s an album that leaves you feeling, like the music that created it, covered in dirt, having just re-awakened from the dead and digging yourself out of your own grave.
18) Vallenfyre – Splinters
Vallenfyre made one of my go-to ugly metal albums this year. Splinters is a huge, beefy disc that saw the band growing the death and doom sound cultivated on A Fragile King. It is not a pretty album by any means. It sounds great and is produced well, but the music contained within is a roiling, ugly animal snarling and clawing for any chance to escape.
The members of Vallenfyre’s lineup have a huge tome of music to their names and it shows as the band spend Splinters dispensing some expertly written and meaty death metal. It helps that the band have two tremendous riff-masters on guitar; the disc has zero reliance on any chugging and is just constantly propelling forward, using some insidiously heavy grooves that cause the instinctual headbanging that people come to and play heavy metal for.
There’s just a hint of misery in the group’s sound, but overall, Vallenfyre are just a massive, overdriven monster of death that lumbers its way from city to town to village to hovel and destroys everything in its path. If you wish to be left a pile of rubble when all is done, let Splinters try to crush you alive.
17) Aborted – Necrotic Manifesto
I’m not sure if it reflects well on my person that for a pretty good chunk of 2014, Aborted’s “Your Entitlement Means Nothing” because one of my post-work drive-home songs.
I think it’s become pretty clear that by this point in their career Aborted have found something that works for them, and they’re going to choke as much life out of it as humanly possible. Necrotic Manifesto runs in a pretty similar vein as Global Flatline, albeit with darker intentions, and in my case that is just enough that it still works. Aborted move at a pretty quick pace, sample a couple Hellraiser movies as well as Hobo With A Shotgun, pulverize everything in their path, and then get the fuck out of dodge. It’s hard to deny that the album is the sort of thing one might need when, say, a project goes completely sideways at work, as has become the case far too often, or so I’ve heard from a guy I know.
Sven’s delivery is once again rapid and almost unceasing and the dude pretty much has the rabid-dog vocals down pat, with “Coffin Upon Coffin” sounding like stacks of them being assembled with the precision of a machine in vocal form. Of course, you can’t help but want to yell along with it when the relentless blasts slowly wear you down to where you’re not sure if you love it or if it has just melded with your personality and become a part of you.
Necrotic Manifesto, like Aborted, is a dark, angry, explosion of an album. I’m not sure if I can do a third go-round with this specific phase of the band, but this is one of those cases where going back for seconds was absolutely worth it.
16) Decapitated – Blood Mantra
I try not to be one of those people who “swears by the brand” when it comes to a band, but goddamn if Decapitated don’t have me hook, line, and sinker whenever they put out material. I’ve immensely enjoyed this current reincarnation of the band, whose music seems to be typed out by a C&C machine more so than written by a human being. Blood Mantra feels like a collection of singles, but each song has a huge groove to it, the type of mosher that can incite to violence.
Mouthful song “Blasphemous Psalm To The Dummy God Creation” is a massive, quick hit of death metal, and then the band morph into multiple forms, dishing out songs that dart from Machine Head-style thrash tracks to full blown Meshuggah songs. When they’re not darting back and forth in this way between songs, they’re usually going right for the jugular and howling as they do it.
Blood Mantra, like Carnival Is Forever, is a sleek album that sounds great, and like Carnival Is Forever, it’s a tight package that doesn’t spend too much time dwelling on its purpose. It hits super-hard and leaves you standing like you’re suffering death from a thousand cuts.
15) Inferi – The Path Of Apotheosis
If you want to sit down and have a discussion about an album that wins on the merit of, “Let’s launch every single fucking thing we have at this and see what flies”, then have I got the disc for you. The Path Of Apotheosis is goddamned PACKED full of guitars, drums, bass, vocals. Everything that could constitute a band is jammed into The Path Of Apotheosis. The music sounds like war between different dimensions, the heavens fighting the underworld, and I am not going to lie when I say this, but I absolutely love the speed at which this album moves — super-fast.
Honestly, reviewing this disc when I did was super-difficult simply due to the fact that there is a ton of music on The Path Of Apotheosis and I was trying my damnedest not to let the review turn into a novel — because believe me, if you want an album in which you’ll always be discovering something new, then this disc is perfect. If you want a blisteringly fast take on tech-death, then Inferi also have your number. They’ve proven to be one of my favorite new discoveries this year.
14) Septicflesh – Titan
It will probably become evident over the course of this list, but it’s a pretty safe inference to make that I am a huge sucker for an orchestral element in my heavy metal, especially when it’s used to enhance the atmosphere and composition of a death metal song. That’s why I’ve absolutely been on the train for Septicflesh’s current brand of death metal. Titan feels like another take on The Great Mass, but this time around the band seemed to be writing more around the orchestra — and I came to find out that’s the way the disc was recorded, pretty much in conjunction with an actual symphony. This means that in terms of songwriting, Titan comes across as a 60/40 split with the orchestra winning out in terms of composition.
While this rubbed some folks the wrong way, I personally was happier than a pig in shit with how it came out. The music is composed so well and plays out through ten tracks of sweeping symphonies and ugly death metal. You even get oddities like “Burn” thrown in, with a chorus so awkward that I think I’ve come to love it in the same way someone comes to love a three-legged dog. There are some absolute death metal epics on Titan though, like the titular track as well as “Order Of Dracul” and “The First Immortal” — which sees the heaviest usage of the much-publicized children’s choir that contributed to the recording.
Titan is a huge album for Septicflesh and shows that the band can make massive music when provided with a budget and are unleashed upon the world.
13) Benighted – Carnivore Sublime
There’s a couple albums out this year that that I am convinced pair well together — so much so that they’re almost inseparable for me. A spin of one album completely justifies the spinning of the other. Aborted’s Necrotic Manifesto and Carnivore Sublime by France’s own Benighted have become that pairing for me. The two albums are big lovefests for Deathgrind, and the only reason why I find myself ranking Benighted higher than Aborted on this list is because Benighted got a little more adventurous and weird on Carnivore Sublime.
The special-edition version of this disc is super worth it, with a smattering of fun covers including Rammstein’s “Du Reichst So Gut”, but on top of that the original music within Carnivore Sublime is great in its own right. Songs like “Slaughter/Suicide” keep the brutality level high and a song like “Spit”, with a guest appearance from Niklas Kvarforth of Shining , is a super-intense track with a manic vocal delivery of the line, “SPIT TO THE FACE MY DARKNESS SHALL EMBRACE” over and over again, which worms its way right into your brain. “June And The Laconic Solstice”, for pulling as simple a trick as it does, still has one of my favorite endings to a song on an album, with a quick breath and a “YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGH”to close things out.
Carnivore Sublime was one of my “default” discs to go to throughout much of 2014 — the type of album where I couldn’t figure out what the fuck I wanted to hear and just immediately went, “You know, that Benighted disc was pretty fucking good”.
12) Scar Symmetry – The Singularity (Phase I: Neohumanity)
I will fully own up to the fact that Scar Symmetry are one of the popular bands that I go to because I know they usually have catchy hooks and super-strong choruses. The fact that they’ve also got a pretty good take on melo-death and prog-death with some hefty theoretical physics influences has always been a huge bonus.
We’re now three releases in since the great vocalist switch of 2008 and I think that Roberth and Lars have really come into their own as frontmen. Scar Symmetry really gave it their all with Singularity, of which Neohumanity is part one of a trilogy, and it sees the band as scrappy as ever. I wasn’t a huge fan of The Unseen Empire, so it was great to hear the band return to what they do best — which is space and all things thereabouts. Neohumanity sounds like a hybrid of Dark Matter Dimensions and Holographic Universe, two albums in the Scar Symmetry discography that I absolutely adore.
The group wrote one of their most pop-oriented song with “Limits To Infinity”, but also one of their most progressive epics in “Technopocalyptic Cybergeddon”. The songs on this album are intricate and there is no wasted space.
My personal favorite track is “Neuromancers”, if only for the Gibson shoutout, but also because of the callout to “I have no mouth and I must scream”, which is done in a quick line where it seems like the whole group, especially the drums, lose their mind. The Singularity (Phase I) has me super-hyped for the next discs in the trilogy, and I sincerely hope they’re just as good as this one, because by the end of it we will have a really good three-album block of music.
11) Insomnium – Shadows Of The Dying Sun
Over the past few years, Insomnium have become something of a standard-bearer for the melo-doom scene, and as a longtime fan since Above The Weeping World, I’ve been excited to see that happen. They’re a band who are absolutely worth it — few groups can write a lead melody or create an atmosphere like Insomnium can.
Shadows Of The Dying Sun is a familiar exercise for the band. They try some new things in order to keep it fresh, but it is still in the Insomnium realm. The band have added Omnium Gatherum guitarist Markus Vanhala to their ranks and they get as much mileage out of the guy as possible. He is responsible for some absolutely triumphant solos throughout the whole album — including one of the best on the bonus track “Out To The Sea”.
A quick aside: Having “Out To The Sea” as a bonus song is goddamned criminal. It is one of the best songs on Shadows Of The Dying Sun, and if you love this album and haven’t heard it yet, you absolutely owe it to yourselves to check that song out.
While it isn’t one of the group’s strongest albums, dealing in shades of “how good a disc is” for Insomnium is pretty much dealing in shades of awesomeness. Shadows Of The Dying Sun is still an enjoyable as hell experience and fits in well with the group’s discography — still a damned good demonstration of why more people should be paying attention to this band. If Insomnium become one of the bigger metal bands out there, with what they’ve done so far, I would be tremendously happy. It could only bode well for future groups that I hope they will inspire.
10) At The Gates – At War With Reality
I’m going to be honest with you: Like most folks, I was immediately excited by the prospect of a new At The Gates disc — there’s always that hope with a veteran band coming back to the fold that they’re going to really show these young’uns how it’s done.
Of course, At The Gates also bear a tremendous burden as well, because they’re the artists behind the almighty Slaughter Of The Soul — a disc whose praises have been sung up and down, left and right, to the point where it has taken on an almost mythological aura. We’ve sung its praises as one of the finest Gothenburg melo-death discs ever, and by the same token have faulted it for spawning almost a decade of metalcore albums taking riffs from it, though some certainly excelled at it (e.g., Darkest Hour).
Since Slaughter hit, though, we’ve seen a million different permutations and even multiple synth-heavy phases of melo-death, yet none have come close to sounding like At The Gates. There have been some goddamned great albums, and I am an avowed fan of the genre as a whole, but none really got why Slaughter worked the way it did.
At War With Reality, the return album for At The Gates, does a pretty commendable thing in my mind, which is to throw its hands up, say “Fuck It”, and do something entirely different. It veers closer to its more sinister and death metal brethren in Terminal Spirit Disease than it does Slaughter Of The Soul and it is largely what I wanted out of a return of this band, which was simply another At The Gates disc.
The group still show that they have it with songs like “Eater Of The Gods”, but spend much of At War With Reality in some bleak, mid-tempo melodeath, and a lot of it works. This disc is thrash-riff city, and I think it has demonstrated that over the years At The Gates were really the only band who could do their sound faithfully. Although their legacy will remain largely tied to a long-ago released album, At War With Reality is a great addition to their discography.
9) Hour Of Penance – Regicide
I am tremendously jealous of Hour Of Penance, because goddamn can these guys write some death metal riffs. Every disc they have released has proven to be a huge slab of death metal guitar and insanely fast drumming, and Regicide is no different. That they do this without becoming boring is an impressive feat, because at some point it doesn’t matter that your drummer can play at lightspeed if you don’t have the chops to back it up.
Of course, Hour Of Penance have had a big career in which to forge their style, and Regicide continues what the band was doing on Sedition, which in itself was a refinement on the assault of Paradogma. Still, listening to Regicide is like sitting inside a tank while someone stands outside and fires a machine gun into it. The album is filled with grinding, buzzsaw riffs that can whip people into a frenzy, and you get a lot of it, with both the regular and the special editions.
Regicide is built for circular headbanging and huge moshpits, stock Christianity-bashing aside. Hour Of Penance come across massively on this album, and it is frightening the brutality that they dish out. They’ve made their mark as one of the best hyper-blasting death metal bands and have helped contribute a ton to Italy’s reputation as a landing point for death metal.
8) Misery Index – The Killing Gods
Misery Index are one of those bands I would hazard to say are “important” to me. They’ve been my go-to when I am angry at society and all of its ills. Heirs To Thievery was my favorite album when it hit in 2010 and The Killing Gods proved that, goddamnit, it has been way too fucking long since we had a Misery Index disc.
I was curious to see how the group would approach the modern political climate or if they’d even try to tackle it in their songs — and they did something interesting by not really doing that until the back half of the album. The opening five songs are a concept batch of tracks based on Faust and it gives us a couple of really good songs in the form of “The Calling” and “The Harrowing” — the latter armed with a fantastic solo that comes out of nowhere but quickly becomes the highlight of that track. “Conjuring The Cull” is another one that will keep you headbanging, as well as tracks like “The Weakener”, “Gallows Humor”, and “Cross To Bear”.
Misery Index are still a tour de force of deathgrind, and The Killing Gods is just as good as anything the band have done, so naturally it was going immediately to shoot close to the top for me. I know it makes me seem like an opinionated piece of garbage in that sense, but I can’t help it — I love what these guys do. Also, if any band were justified in covering “Thieves” as part of a Ministry medley, then it is Misery Index — and it works out tremendously.
If you aren’t aware of Misery Index, The Killing Gods and its awesome cover art is absolutely worth the time spent — and then check out everything else the band have done.
7) Behemoth – The Satanist
I’ve seen a little chatter recently as some people have wondered why Behemoth were making all sorts of top ten lists — other than the fact that it’s fucking Behemoth and some people are just going to throw them on there by reputation alone. I can’t speak for everyone, but I hope that I can provide some insight as to why I loved The Satanist so much this year.
For me, The Satanist felt like an album written for a ritual. It’s not the most crushingly death metal thing the band have ever done, but it cast the band as actors in a sort of play — with Nergal standing behind a podium ranting out to the crowd. The songs are very approachable this time around, but still heavy enough to keep you headbanging and windmilling when the appropriate riff comes up.
For me, the atmospheric aspects of the music are what sold me on this disc; I can’t imagine The Satanist happening anywhere but in a smoke-filled room with Nergal yelling at me. It’s a warm disc, one that actually acknowledges that the band have a low end – -which, I imagine, may be because everyone is terrified of how huge Orion is and sometimes, well, sometimes you gotta let the wookie win when it comes to the album mix.
Still though, the album is filled with memorable tracks like “Ora Pro Nobis Lucifer” and “O Father, O Satan, O Sun”, which I think the band immediately recognized as being one of their best and is why they close their sets with that song now. For me, The Satanist is beyond just an atmospheric death metal album and feels more like an event. This is something I would love to see the band do front to back, even though I’ve only seen them once and still have a massive list of songs that I would love to hear them play.
Yes, it is a super-approachable disc, but one that is also really good in its own right. I honestly hope Behemoth are building an even more massive fanbase out of it, because having Behemoth as a gateway into heavy metal can only be a good thing for the genre.
6) Volturyon – Human Demolition
You’re reading this right: an EP actually made it into my top 30 albums this year. Volturyon’s Human Demolition is a criminally underrated release, one that makes me headbang like hell — to the point where I’ve had to turn priests away at the door because my neighbors have witnessed the uncoordinated spasms that I consider rocking out and thought I was possessed.
Human Demolition is a four-song destructive force that could flatten cities. It’s the quickest death metal hit I have on this list and it, too, is one that I’ve constantly visited whenever I’ve just needed “something” to rock out to. “Concrete Devotion” and the title track “Human Demolition” are massive tracks written around some super-sharp grooves, while “Dermal Smoothie” is a slower grind. “Barbaric Bludgeoning” acts as the bridge between the two, but all four songs form a very-tight, twenty minute package that just flies by. It has left me salivating at the prospect of Volturyon’s eventual full-length release.
People absolutely need to listen to this disc because it is one of those albums that I can’t sing the praises of enough.
5) Bloodshot Dawn – Demons
Bloodshot Dawn never quite gelled with me until just recently. They were one of those bands whom I never quite got into, although I could always completely understand the praise behind them — because goddamn, could the guys in this band play guitar. I just needed that one album that would absolutely hit for me, and Demons came through with flying colors.
This release is a guitarist’s wet dream. There are so many solos and thrash and death metal tunes and it’s all written masterfully. The eight songs on this disc are filled to the brim with riffs and solos that measure in at the metric fuckton. The six of them that are purely the band deliver an amazing display of melo-death that keeps going at constant high speed, not to mention the ridiculous grab bag of guest guitarists who all appear on “The Image Faded” (because if you’re going to have a bunch of guest solos, why not have them occupy the whole five-minute mid-section of one song).
This is an album that, like many of the top ten, cause me to almost compulsively headbang. I joke about the six songs that are “purely the band” simply because the last two are of a different flavor. They’re great tunes, but they click with the rest of the disc in a weird way. The title track feels like the best Soilwork song that didn’t appear on The Living Infinite and is insanely catchy, both in the synth parts and in the chorus.
And I have a huge love for “The Human Void”, which features a guest spot by Sven from Aborted. “The Human Void” is easily the most death metal song on Demons and it hits so hard. Sven comes in and just transforms the song into an Aborted track. The combo of the last two songs alongside the six main, beefy tracks of Demons creates a hell of an album. It is the one that has me locked in for sure with these guys and people absolutely need to check this disc out.
4) Mechina – Xenon
I will never understand Mechina’s habit of releasing their albums right at the beginning of the year — it pretty much dooms them to having to put out some amazing music lest they spent the next three hundred and sixty-four days being overlooked. When Xenon hit, I swore up and down that I was going to remember this disc and make space for it on my arbitrary albums list of the year. The good news is that Mechina made it damned easy for me to do so with Xenon.
Xenon is a heavy album, more focused on chugging grooves than Empyrean was but still containing a hefty dose of the symphony and orchestration that people come to the band for. With its overarching, sci-fi inspired storyline, Xenon adds to the overall mythos that Mechina have been building for some time now — and recently added to with the epic To Coexist Is To Surrender that they released halfway through the year.
The opening five tracks on Xenon alone, especially the infectious and clean-sung “Zoticus”, were enough to keep this album on my radar throughout the whole year. I now look forward to doing the same goddamned routine again next year, when the band put out an album once again on January 1st, 2015.
Mechina have seriously been one of the best discoveries that I’ve come across in some time. A super-ambitious, symphonic groove and death metal band with heavy sci-fi influences and concepts sounding like the Mass Effect series put into song form. What is not to love?
3) Black Crown Initiate – The Wreckage Of Stars
I had a tremendous amount of hype for The Wreckage Of Stars, given this Reading, Pennsylvania-based group’s previous output on Song Of The Crippled Bull, which, crazy as it sounds, only hit last year. It’s a hard trick to pull off, coming up with an album’s worth of material so soon after an auspicious EP, but I had a tremendous amount of faith in Black Crown Initiate. It’s awesome to know that it wasn’t misplaced.
The group cement their status as a modern-day progressive death metal band on this album. All of them are impressive musicians. They are backed by a monstrously talented rhythm section and contain a three-pronged vocal attack that has a knack for a massive line and huge chorus. They have so many weapons at their disposal, but Wreckage Of Stars isn’t just a huge display of “Look how good we are!” It tells a story and feels like a journey, one that goes from death metal, to -core, to heavy post- elements to even a triumphant entirely clean-sung closer.
The album has a couple of singles that, were the world just, would have the band deluged with a ton of publicity. I know I’ve had times where I bounced between “Withering Waves” and “Great Mistake” over and over — I do eventually get around to the full album. Wreckage Of Stars is one of those discs where it runs for a little over an hour, yet my sessions with it have gone from one to three easily. I find so many things to enjoy. Just recently I’ve found myself falling in love with the song “Purge”, and before that was generally digging on the mostly instrumental title track.
Black Crown Initiate are a massively ambitious band, and it’s awesome to see that they’ve begun to get out in front of people. This is the sort of metal we should hope to champion, a dynamic creature that has so many different elements yet doesn’t just sound like a grab bag.
Black Crown Initiate have a fucking hell of a task ahead of them and one I don’t envy one bit. The time will come when somehow they’ll have to follow this album up, and man, that is a hell of a mountain to climb.
2) Archspire – The Lucid Collective
Hooooo boy. Here is the disc that makes me frightened for the future of tech-death as a genre. I say this because I think Archspire might’ve just crushed the whole genre into dust with The Lucid Collective by simply being the “most” on just about everything.
The drums are some of the most technically proficient and stunningly fast that I’ve heard, the guitar work is terrifying, and the vocals – goddamn. I could write whole swaths of words on just the vocal work alone because they are so rapid-fire, so quickly delivered, and with a technique so close to a poetry performance that they become an instrument in their own right. You can’t tell what the dude is saying a lot of the time, but he is so percussive in his delivery that it feels like Archspire have a two-and-a-half-man rhythm section and a two-and-a-half-man guitar section.
Every song on The Lucid Collective has its own gimmick; I can’t tell you how many people I’ve pulled aside where I’ve just been like, “You need to fucking hear this”. It’s one of the few discs this year that feels like it’s blowing my hair completely back when I hear it, like the old speakers commercial. I know our own Austin Weber has also been a champion of this disc, and he is absolutely, 100% right with everything he says about Lucid Collective. It’s a tech-death hurricane. It frightens the shit out of me.
Between Lucid Collective, Beyond Creation’s latest, and so many other releases in this space, I’m not sure how many scales are left to be played on guitar. Surely, there is a band out there right now who are contemplating how to get a Warr Guitar into the mix. I know it’s a messy thing to say, but Archspire won the arms race this year. Next year, if people are still competing for the title, we are in for a world of hurt.
With all that said, The Lucid Collective ranked super-high on my list and dominated a lot of my listening time this year. If you’ve glossed on this disc, you’re making a huge mistake.
1) Anaal Nathrakh – Desideratum
This album is one of the two absolute obsessions that I have had this year. I have enjoyed everything Nathrakh have done for some time now, and Desideratum, with its newly cranked-to-the-max industrial element, just happened to be the perfect storm of chaos for me this year. I don’t think there’s a misstep on this disc and I have spent hours just letting it run back and forth.
Desideratum goes by so quick, it’s so angry, such a violent expulsion of energy that I’m sure a spin of this disc in my radio causes other countries to pick up neutrinos on their detectors. I’ve got countless hours spent already, trying to parse out the lyrics, pick up on whatever it is in god’s name Dave is screaming about, as Mick goes about a sonic destruction act in the background. I think I might have a pretty good chunk of “The Joystream”, and I know I’ve figured out what that sample in “Desideratum” is saying.
There’s so much on this disc that I find myself enjoying. I spin the title track because I love the backing bass hits on the aforementioned sample and the following apocalyptic drum run. The scream ranting of “The Joystream” is something that I’ve enjoyed every second of parsing out. “Rage And Red”, with its own guest appearance by Shining vocalist Niklas Kvarforth (his second on this list!) is a devastating track. And I repeat myself from my review: Naming a song “Unleash” is probably the most apt thing the band have ever done because after its breakdown-heavy lead in song, everything just becomes fire and destruction and then quickly wraps itself up ten songs later.
Not only that, but it’s like the fire was suffocated out because the last track just suddenly ends, and if you’re like me… it’s back to track one again. This disc is one of the perfect albums for a quick hit of adrenaline, and then time to get on with your day. Desideratum is one more album in a pretty long hot streak for this band and it crushed all others to dust when it came time to pick my album of the year. It came out so late, yet it’s been all I can think about since it hit, and also the one I have probably listened to the most.
Though god be damned if the Last.fm scrobbler ever fucking picks it up.
2014’s 2010 Album Of The Year – Gojira – Sea Shepherd EP
Keepin’ the dream alive!
Early Preview of 2015 Album That I Stupidly Thought Would Be Hitting In Late December For Which I Didn’t Have Nearly Enough Time To Figure Out Whether Or Not It Was Going To Make The List But Am Still Enjoying A Bit Anyway Although My Full Feelings Are Still Unformed Award
Sylosis – Dormant Heart
The Album That BadWolf Threatened To Beat Me To Death Over If I Didn’t Include It In Some Form On This List Award
Enabler – La Fin Absolue Du Monde
Here you go buddy! Please don’t hit me.
Album Art Of The Year – The Kennedy Veil – Trinity Of Falsehood
Created by Ken Sarafin (Sarafin Concepts)
This thing was my phone background for god knows how long since it was revealed and I still keep a copy of it saved in case I want to put it back up as my computer background — something that has happened constantly. Seriously, what a cool goddamned piece of art.