(Well, this is it. The final list in our 2014 LISTMANIA series. And it comes our way from Leperkahn. On Monday, I’ll have a wrap-up that collects final thoughts and links to every list in the series.)
Hello once again, my fellow NCS comrades. This list comes a lot later than I had planned, considering I’ve been off school since the 11th of December. It seems I get better at procrastination with age.
Speaking of school, 2014 was a bit of a big year in that regard. This time last year, I had just submitted my last college applications; now, I’m one quarter deep into my first year at The University of Chicago. Having this massive transition right in the middle of the year, much more drastic than the between-grade changes I’d become accustomed to the past 12 years, made it really hard to make this list. January 2014 might as well have been the Dark Ages, in my mind.
The demands of school also cut into, and continue to cut into, my writing time here. You may have noticed that it’s been a bit patchy (if you noticed it at all), beyond that 10-day stretch where I decided to impersonate Islander with the round-ups. Nevertheless, I still got some reviews and such out in my first full year as a guest writer.
I also listened to even more music than before – my list last year was 30 albums, but I had to struggle to hem it down to 50 (plus 10 EPs) this year. Even then, I still missed or didn’t have enough time for a bunch of releases. Aenaon in particular comes to mind, but there are certainly others that will likely be pointed out by y’all in the comments (and please do point them out – I’m always game for a good new band).
Before I start, for those looking for the new Pallbearer or Dead Congregation in this list, I’m afraid you won’t find it here. Pallbearer’s sophomore LP was certainly fine, but nothing about it made we want to listen to it again and again. It didn’t have whatever magic Sorrow and Extinction had, and really just sounded like a bunch of less-powerful S&E outtakes. Considering how awesome the debut was, it unfortunately comes as my disappointment of the year. As for Dead Congregation, maybe this is my lack of kvlt-ness talking, but it sounds no different from any garden-variety death metal album to me.
Anyway, let’s start with the definitive 10 best EPs of the year:
10. Iron Reagan – Spoiled Identity
Originally released as a Decibel flexi, this 13-song, five-minute release certainly takes the cake for most songs per minute. They use that five minutes extremely well, however, giving you a burst of energy that you can release in the span of a bathroom break at work. Also, Iron Reagan still takes the cake for best band name ever, or at least best synchronization of band name and sound.
9. Fuck the Facts – Abandoned
I didn’t catch onto them until Die Miserable, but damn am I happy I did. The Amer EP was awesome, and this one is no different. Also, the riff in “L’impasse” is goddamn infectious.
8. We All Die (Laughing) – Thoughtscanning
I reviewed this awesome EP, consisting of a single song (“Thoughtscan”) way back in February, and then kinda forgot about it for a really long time until it showed up deep into Vonlughlio’s list, when I remembered how amazing this release was. Mixing haunting doom, Opethian riffs, eerie calm passages, and a helluva lot more, this song, EP, and band defy categorization in the best way possible.
7. Junius – Days of the Fallen Sun
I seriously could’ve sworn this came out in 2013. It wasn’t until I saw it in multiple other lists that I realized this came out this year, and thus was entirely deserving of a spot on this list. Joseph Martinez could easily have been in a darkwave band back in the ‘80s with his sultry and gothic, yet soulful, voice, and his bandmates create gorgeous post-metal landscapes to perfectly complement him. One of the few releases of the year that my mom and I agreed upon.
6. Cult Leader – Nothing For Us Here
Naturally, Gaza had to run into some quagmires and break up right as they were getting fantastic, as No Absolutes in Human Suffering was the first work by the band I could truly get behind, with its absolutely caustic rage. Luckily for us, out of the ashes of that band comes Cult Leader, who features ¾ of Gaza (minus vocalist Jon Parkin) yet have shuffled instruments a bit. That said, this EP sounds a helluva lot like the final Gaza record, replete with its noise-rock-esque melodies and unbridled anger directed at any and all things around them. Gaza is dead; long live Cult Leader.
5. Godflesh – Decline and Fall
This is here partly as an apology for not giving the new full-length as much time as it deserved. It probably would’ve been somewhere in my list if I had listened to it enough to get a good impression of it. That said, this precursor EP is also solid, and assuaged our concerns by demonstrating that Godflesh is back to its classic self. Great study music as well – the constant programmed drumbeat lends itself to a hypnotic sense of focus that helps me to be a lot more productive.
4. Bölzer – Soma
I caught the Bölzer bug a bit late – it wasn’t until months after Aura came out that “Entranced by the Wolfshook” finally dug its claws into my skull. However, I was entirely on board with the band by the time Soma started to get teased, especially after hearing “Steppes”, which might be their catchiest track yet (though that first riff in “Wolfshook” still takes the cake for best/catchiest riff), while “Labyrinthian Graves” remained just as compelling across its expansive twelve-and-a-half minutes. One of my big regrets this year is missing this band at Fall of Summer out in France.
3. Ascension – Deathless Light
This is also acting as a bit of a stand-in for The Dead in The World – considering that the second Ascension LP just came out a week ago, I haven’t been able to get my hands on it just yet. I have, however, spun this two-song EP a ton, as it provides a magnificent introduction to the melodic black metal majesty of Ascension (and has convinced me I need to get my hands on a copy of debut Consolamentum ASAP). “Deathless Light” was all I needed to be convinced that the new album should be magnificent, while “Garden of Stone” would certainly make a fine bonus track if the band ever so chose to use it as such. This concise sample-size dose is a perfect way to introduce someone to Ascension.
2. Cult of Fire – Čtvrtá Symfonie Ohně
Again, I have been remiss in not giving their newest album, मृत्यु का तापसी अनुध्यान, a single listen. I did, however, jump on this EP when I heard the first track, “Vitava”, and its positively triumphant, classical melodies (this release is inspired by composer Bedrich Smetana, after all). The other track, “Váh”, is certainly fantastic as well, but goddamn, “Vitava” might be one of the best tracks of the year.
1. Noisem – Consumed
Agony Defined was likely my most listened to album of last year, barring perhaps Pelagial (still the best album released since Blackwater Park). And this year, I probably listened to this EP more than anything else. At just under 10 minutes, it can fit in just about any span of time, and uses that time to bludgeon you with some of the most inspired thrashy death metal this side of early Death. The sole original track on this release, “Consuming”, starts off in a blaze, and ends in one of the heaviest megalodon riffs you’ll hear all year. They feckin’ kill it on the covers too. I might have a panic attack when their new album drops sometime next year. Until then, I’ll be jamming this nonstop. (P.S.: you’re welcome for the pizza a the La Jolla gig 🙂 )
Now, on to the best records of the year. Keep in mind that the rankings are a bit arbitrary – I got tired of shuffling things around, so rankings up until the top 10 or 20 are a bit soft (the same goes, to a lesser degree, for the EPs listed above).
50. Martyrdöd– Elddop
If I had given this record more time, it probably would’ve been higher up on the list. That said, this basically feels like Amon Amarth decided to become a punk band, which is one of the best things I can imagine, and works way better than I could’ve ever hoped.
49. Fluisteraars – Dromers
I almost forgot about this release, since it came out all the way back in January. I finally came back to it recently, and rediscovered a fantastic melodic black metal record with some razor sharp edges and one of the more chant-able lines of the year (DE DOOOORNEEEEN!!!!!). Again, if I had given this more time it probably would’ve been higher up on the list.
48. Witch Mountain – Mobile of Angels
It wasn’t until this showed up on some early year-end lists that I gave this a shot. Previous Witch Mountain offerings didn’t really grab me (I’m not a big fan of operatic singing in my doom metal most of the time). Thank Odin I did finally listen to this, as it’s easily this year’s answer to Royal Thunder’s debut CVI. The riffs on this thing are gargantuan, and Uta Plotkin’s swansong with the group sees her giving one of the most soulful vocal performances of the year, particularly on “Your Corrupt Ways (Sour the Hymn)”. Don’t sleep on this one like I did.
47. Psygnosis – Human Be[ing]
I was totally gonna review this way before DGR did, but then I procrastinated and it never happened (common theme for me). Anyway, this is probably one of the few remotely deathcore-y things I enjoy these days, partly because of the dynamics their songs use, the doom-y qualities embedded within, and the well-placed film quotes they put in. It might be a bit long, but none of the music suffers much as a result.
46. Morbus Chron – Sweven
I also got to this one really late, for really no good reason. It manages to be somehow soft but feral, and incorporates all kinds of flourishes into their death metal foundation. You’ve probably heard plenty of people praise this record already, but for what it’s worth I give it a hearty recommendation.
45. Mantar – Death By Burning
I’m gonna sound like a broken record here, but I also slept on this for waaaay too long. This lies somewhere in the nexus between Melvins and Motörhead, with a soupçon of black metal, meshing a warmly bludgeoning guitar tone with some raw, punkish rasps, all held down by Erinc’s skinsmanship. This one certainly doesn’t sound like anything else I’ve heard, and proves to be a captivating listen.
44. Foo Fighters – Sonic Highways
I imagine I’m going to get a decent amount of flack for this one. If I had only heard the record standalone, comparing it with their past releases, this might not have made the list. But I’m going to pair this with the HBO series that is this record’s companion, which was further proof that Dave Grohl is the eminent rock documentarian of our time (Sound City was fantastic as well, and made me appreciate Kvelertak’s newest record quite a bit more).
When hearing the album via the series, you can see the subtle influences each town had on each song – the country aura of “Congregation”, for example. And I’ll be damned if “Something From Nothing” and “The Feast and the Famine” aren’t virally infectious. Dave Grohl is probably the last true rock star we’ve seen, and to watch him still carrying the torch, and striving to archive rock’s past, is a wonderful thing.
43. Lost Society – Lethal Pleasure
These guys floored me with their ridiculously energetic yet incredibly precise brand of thrash with their debut Fast Loud Death. They continue to sound like machines on meth with this sophomore effort, inspiring countless shout-alongs, air guitar sessions, and general headbanging debauchery. On a similar note, fellow Finnish thrashers Foreseen released a helluvan album this year, but I didn’t have a chance to listen to it more than once or twice, thus why it shall not appear on this list.
42. Every Time I Die – From Parts Unknown
Admittedly, this one isn’t as great as predecessor Ex Lives, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t damn good (granted, this band has been pretty consistently awesome for a while now.). Part of that might be because this one sounds strangely happier, such as on “Decayin’ With The Boys”. Keith Buckley is one of the few lyricists I pay attention to, since he combines compelling lyrics with a voice that I can actually decipher them through in real time.
41. Dying Out Flame – Shiva Rudrastakam
As with Psygnosis above, I totally meant to review this one, which of course guarantees that I was never gonna get around to it. Normally I’m not much of a brutal death metal guy, but when it gets blended so seamlessly with the Hindu elements the band swirls in, you can color me intrigued. Trust me, the combination works waaaaay better than you think it will.
40. Vampire – Vampire
I didn’t hear about this record until I saw their name on the bill for the aforementioned inaugural Fall of Summer Open Air I was lucky enough to attend, and decided to give their only album a spin. This is some hard-hitting death metal wrapped in a shroud of the occult, giving it a sort of black metal atmosphere (if perhaps it doesn’t have much in common with black metal sonically). The songs hold up really well live too – despite having to follow Carcass at the festival, they held their own.
39. OFF! – Wasted Years
This new collection of songs from the band (their longest yet, at twenty-three minutes) generally continues what they’ve been doing on their past EPs and full-length, which is to say a wonderful homage to So Cal hardcore punk, replete with Keith Morris’s iconic voice. If you’ve heard any of their songs, you’ve heard them all, but that’s exactly the appeal with a band like this, and this new album is just as good as anything else they’ve put out.
38. Steel Panther – All You Can Eat
I have grown to dislike pretty much all glam metal, and yet I’ve loved pretty much everything Steel Panther have done. Sure, they’re basically a joke band (taking the innuendo out of glam’s lyrics), but behind the gimmick, the band writes some damn good hooks (just try to get “Gloryhole” out of your head), and Michael Starr is reminiscent of David Lee Roth at his best, both in the quality of his voice and his energetic stage presence.
37. Body Count – Manslaughter
This thing basically sounds like Ice-T rapping over Hatebreed. In other words, this is Taylor-made to be a somewhat-guilty pleasure of mine. And you know what, when you write songs like “Talk Shit, Get Shot”, or feature a genius re-imagining of “Institutionalized”, you can pretty much guarantee I’ll listen to this way more often than I’ll ever admit.
36. Black Crown Initiate – The Wreckage of Stars
This one didn’t quite live up to the hype of Song of the Crippled Bull. Part of that is kind of out of their control – I’m a sucker for concept albums and releases that have songs flowing perfectly into one another as if the first song never ended, as well as releases that reference motifs multiple times throughout the work. In fact, that’s mostly why this one is so low. There’s a few fantastic songs, like “A Great Mistake” and “Withering Waves”, but I’m just not as captivated with this one as its predecessor. However, even as a slight disappointment, this thing slays.
35. Misery Index – The Killing Gods
This one is kinda similar to BCI above it. The first half of this release, a multi-part piece called “Faust”, is absolutely amazing, with how it flows so smoothly from track to track, and the captivating melodic flourishes the band introduce amidst their blasting death metal foundation. I would consider it one of the best, if not the best, EP of the year. The second half of the album also has some solid songs, and could make for a solid EP in itself, or roughly half of a concept-less album. However, when the two pieces are crammed next to each other, The Killing Gods loses some of its power. I can’t really blame the band for releasing the songs as they did, since they’re all great songs, but I can’t help but think how things could’ve turned out for the band had they separated “Faust” from the rest of the album.
34. Mastodon – Once More ‘Round The Sun
For me, Mastodon’s at their best when they’re doing concept albums (kinda like BCI). Remission through Crack The Skye is a nearly unrivaled period of amazing work, while their albums since haven’t been quite as revelatory. Then again, Mastodon has yet to do something bad in my mind, and even a release somewhat below the benchmark of their past work (granted, this one’s an improvement on The Hunter) will still rank as a great album, and one of the best of the year.
33. Machine Head – Bloodstone & Diamonds
After being absolutely floored by The Blackening, I found Unto The Locust to be a bit of a letdown. Upon first listen, I thought the same of this album. That was because I tried to digest it in one sitting, and this album is waaaaaay too long. However, when I somewhat accidentally made it through a few songs at a time with breaks in between, I came to realize that this is a massive improvement over its predecessor, and filled with good songs (really, none of these tracks is a dud), like opener “Now We Die” and “Game Over”.
With that in mind, it’s hard to reconcile these two seemingly at-odds perspectives – overlong, but with no bad songs – but I’m sure they could have come to a solution. Bonus tracks? An album and an EP, released within 6-8 months of each other? Regardless of its issues, however, this one is definitely worth your money – just don’t expect to be able to make it through in one sitting.
32. Sockweb – Werewolf
Sure, this is a gimmick. But you know what? This gimmick came out with some fantastic grind songs. Scott Hull’s hand can be felt on this, yet Adam “Blackula” Young’s riffs are potent here, and I’ll be damned if his daughter Joanie doesn’t give a vocal performance on par with her hero Kat Katz. Note: My enjoyment of this disc is in no way related to the fact that my name’s in the acknowledgements section of the CD booklet.
31. Weightlessness – Of Lachrymose Grief
I pimped these guys rather hard earlier in the year, and my enthusiasm for this release hasn’t waned. This is easily one of the most intriguing funeral doom releases of the year, mixing in a bit of early Opeth to the classic formula for a potent couple of songs.
30. Eyehategod – Eyehategod
A triumphant return from a legendary band. It’s nice to see some more hardcore punk-esque numbers placed within this slab of classic sludge.
29. Ilenkus – The Crossing
These guys were partially the subject of my first foray into writing for this site (in fact, for any site), and to see them follow up their debut with an album even better than the last is a wonderful thing to behold. I’ll be damned if “Over the Fire, Under the Smoke” isn’t one of the catchiest damn songs of the year (*wink* *wink* *cough* Islander *cough* *cough*), and the songs around it are just as good. Props as well to the album’s artwork – some of the best of the year, tragically overlooked in favor of records with more press behind them. The below video is probably my second favorite of the year as well, behind one to be named later.
28. Shores of Null – Quiescence
This things got some great riffs and melodies that place these guys firmly in the melodic death/doom metal camp (somewhat similar to Insomnium or Swallow the Sun), but what sets these guys apart is the absolutely beautiful baritone of Davide Straccione – he sounds like more soulful Peter Steele in his lower ranges, yet can soar up to an passionate mid-range as well. Seriously one of the best singing performances of the year, made even better by some well-placed growls, and awesome songs for Straccione to do his thing over.
27. Obliterations – Poison Everything
As with BCI, I’ll admit that the EPs (especially the first self-titled one) are a bit better than this debut full-length. That doesn’t mean that this record doesn’t have some goddamn ragers on it (see the one-two punch of “Mind Ain’t Right” and “The One That Got Away”), or feature some interesting dynamic changes not seen on the EPs (“Shame”). Even if this isn’t as good as the first EP, this is still worth your time and money, and I expect that the next effort will be even better.
26. Mors Principium Est – Dawn of the 5th Era
Another band that can pretty much do no wrong. …And Death Said Live was absolutely fantastic, jam-packed with riff after biting riff, and this one is no different. These guys are easily one of the best in the melodic death metal game, and criminally overlooked.
25. The Oath – The Oath
The first (and sadly, only) album from this dynamic duo is one of the better things Rise Above has put out in a while, despite the fact that that label rarely goes wrong. It boils down to two things: the powerful, eerie, occult singing of Johanna Sadonis (who is now the frontwoman of Lucifer – whose debut album I’m now eagerly anticipating), and THOSE RIFFS of Linnea Olsson. Just try not to move to that riff that opens “All Must Die”. I dare you.
24. He Is Legend – Heavy Fruit
I still haven’t spent enough time with It Hates You to effectively compare it to this new offering from the reunited band, but I can tell you that Heavy Fruit is packed with catchy singalong choruses with lyrics that make you question whether you should be singing along (note: I’m singing “ONCE BIIITTEN / TWIIICE CHEEEEEWED!!!!!!” at the top of my lungs as I write this. Be thankful you aren’t here to hear it.). Schuylar Croom still belts it out, and the band around him craft some great songs that won’t get out of your head without a fight.
23. Miasmal – Cursed Redeemer
I tend not to go for Swedish death metal (certainly not as much as our esteemed editor). It’s not that I don’t like it; it’s just that most of it doesn’t do much to grab me, or differentiate itself from their Sunlight heroes. That said, Miasmal threw in just a touch of AC/DC to the Swedeath formula, so that they win me, and many others, over with riffs on riffs on riffs. If you don’t headbang at least once during this album, I recommend seeking medical attention.
22. Goatwhore – Constricting Rage of the Merciless
Goatwhore wrote another Goatwhore record, which already gives them an automatic spot on my list. The fact that it’s probably better than anything else they’ve ever done helps its case, and that riff on “Baring Teeth For Revolt” seals the deal for these lads. There’s really no eloquent way to talk about this album. All I can say is, GOATWHORE!!!!!!!!!
21. Avichi – Catharsis Absolute
I wasn’t familiar with this one-man group (staffed by Andrew Markuszewski) prior to this release. You can tell that he’s also in Lord Mantis when you listen to this – the cross-pollination of sound between those two bands (as well as Indian) is readily evident, as Avichi’s brand of black metal has some formidable doses of industrial and sludge to it. Of course, that doesn’t hold true for the piano instrumental title-track that closes the album, which provides a jarring, yet fitting conclusion. Also, I’ll be kinda bummed if “Lightweaver” doesn’t show up on the Most Infectious list this year.
20. Miss Demeanor – Livid
A few caveats – the frontman and guitarist for this band was my roommate for the first few months this year (we both moved out to get away from a psycho suitemate) at The University of Chicago. Also, I’m pretty sure that purple square isn’t going to be the final artwork (I might be wrong, just what I remember hearing). That said, this album completely earns its place on the list regardless of my personal ties to the band, as they mesh every Nirvana/NIN/Foo Fighters/QOTSA record you’ve ever loved into one album chock full of impressive songwriting and hooks for days. I’m pretty sure there are plans for some type of physical release in the future, but for now gorge yourself on this digital release.
19. Baptists – Bloodmines
This is the record that fulfilled my Kurt Ballou production quota. I had the good sense to pick this thing up on vinyl, and DAMN, does it sound good. It sounds quite a bit like Converge, yet with somewhat lower-pitched vocals, and the unbelievable drumming of Nick Yacyshyn. He continues to sound like a mixture of Brann Dailor and Ben Koller, blowing my mind especially on “Festered”. Grab this to oogle Mr. Yacyshyn’s drumwork and circle pit around with glee.
18. Iron Reagan – The Tyranny of Will
This is the first time I can remember buying an album solely on the strength of a music video. “Miserable Failure”’s video is that good. Seriously, I aspire to start a flash mosh on UChicago’s main quad at some point in my time there. That said, the rest of The Tyranny of Will is similarly awesome, such as on “Eyeball Gore”, “I Won’t Go”, and closer “Four More Years”. These guys might just be the new kings of crossover.
17. Indian – From All Purity
Yet another positively ugly release from a Chicago band this year, this record takes the cake as the best among them, meshing punishing sludge and ear-ravishing noise with some of the most caustic and hateful vocals you’ll hear this year. Even with how depraved this record is, the band still manages to shoehorn some hooks in there, such as on “Rhetoric of No” and “Directional”.
16. Revocation – Deathless
Revocation are another one of those bands that are pretty much incapable of making bad songs. Even a “lackluster” record for them (last year’s self-titled) is still fantastic, yet I love this new one even more. It feels like a bit of a return to the style they honed around Existence is Futile and Chaos of Forms, my two favorite records from the band. They run through catchy choruses, chord progressions that feel like a journey through space and time, and some serious windmill-worthy death-y thrash here, ringing in their label change with a bang.
15. Insomnium – Shadows of the Dying Sun
And we come to another band that can’t really do any wrong in my mind. This record comes of as a bit more melodic, even hopeful, than One For Sorrow, and yet has just as many heart-rending solos and evocative riffs. New guitarist Markus Vanhala makes a huge impact on this record, especially on the solo that closes “While We Sleep” – that solo might be the best of the year.
14. Young and in the Way – When Life Comes To Death
If Watain had a bit of crust punk in them, they’d be YAITW. Which is to say, this band sounds goddamn pissed, with a healthy dose of evil. A perfect record to scream along to as a method of releasing some cathartic rage, I can’t help but concuss myself and lose my voice whenever I spin this. That four-on-the-floor beat that comes in near the beginning of “Be My Blood” causes me to involuntarily demolish my surrounding area – I need to straightjacket myself before playing it.
13. Triptykon – Melana Chasmata
Many heavy metal records claim to be heavy – that’s part of the genre name, after all. But this album – damn, this is HEAVY. The classic Tom G. Warrior downtuned guitar sound injected with an extra helping of despair, and goaded on by periods of eerie calm. There’s a reason Mr. Fischer is a legend, and he sure as hell displays it here, on perhaps his best work yet in a nearly spotless discography (looking at you, Cold Lake).
12. The House of Capricorn – Morning Star Rise
I entirely have this site to thank for finding this band and record. This is absolutely chock full with huge, infectious riffs, and the somewhat Peter Steele-y voice of Marko Pavlovic. You could say I have a Pavlov(ic)ian response to his voice, entrancing me with its beauty and power (sorry, had to go for the low-hanging fruit here). But in all reality, if “Our Shrouded King” or “Ivory Crown” don’t make it on the Most Infectious list, I will stage a coup and take over this site in rage (and spitefully fill it with TMZ gossip).
11. Primordial – Where Greater Men Have Fallen
Pretty much the most epic-sounding band there is. I haven’t scoured through their whole discography yet, but everything I’ve gotten to thus far has been absolutely amazing, and this is no different. This band manages to maintain the level of grandeur that “Hallowed Be Thy Name” attained across multiple albums, as Alan “Nemtheanga” Averill’s positively massive voice recites epic poetry with unrivaled gravitas. He’s honestly a better orator than any politician I’ve ever heard. He’s backed by another batch of soundscapes and riffs that mimic oceanic turmoil, and match the majesty of Averill’s voice. But you already have this, because you know Primordial rules, right?
10. Opeth – Pale Communion / Soen – Tellurian
There is no metal to be found in the new Opeth record, yet it is a much better prog record than Heritage, retaining more Opeth-ness in the riffs and atmosphere. I really do like this record, but it’s not a #10 entry. It’s here as a comparison for Soen’s new record, Tellurian.
Opeth is still my favorite band ever (Still Life and Blackwater Park are in the mix with Pelagial as my top three records ever), and like many fans, I’m not a huge fan of their new direction. It has nothing to do with the death metal vocals though. If he wants to ditch those, so be it (as long as he keeps some of the classics in Opeth’s live setlists). However, the lack of any metal whatsoever hurts the music.
Opeth thrived on exploiting the quiet/loud juxtaposition, a technique that worked wonders even on songs without any growling (“Face of Melinda”, for example). By ditching that, the music becomes much less dynamic. The climaxes aren’t as climactic.
Soen, featuring former Opeth drummer Martin Lopez, do that masterfully. Both Soen and Opeth are prog bands at heart, but Soen keep some heavy guitars in their arsenal, mixing in a bit of Tool as well for an extremely compelling listen. The midsection of ‘Tabula Rasa” harkens back to Ghost Reveries (yes, I was fanboying hard when I heard that part), and, like other tracks on the album, thrives on the juxtapostion of heavy guitars with more meditative sequences. It’s a much more dynamic listen than Pale Communion as a result, and fully deserving of its high place on this list. I can only hope that the new Opeth album mixes in those metal guitar tones and riffs, redeeming them as the best band in the land.
9. Ne Obliviscaris – Citadel
Speaking of records with a decent helping of Opeth in them, Citadel follows the revelatory and well-loved debut Portals of I. Considering how great that debut was, I’m sure I wasn’t alone in my concerns about whether they could replicate that genius. It didn’t take long into the record to confirm that this one definitely lives up to the hype. These guys extend some awesome riffs across meandering yet captivating progressions, highlighted especially by the violin work of Tim Charles. No band is using classical instrumentation in the way Ne Obliviscaris utilize Tim Charles’s performances, acting as another lead guitar part of sorts.
8. Exmortus – Slave To The Sword
The fact that this is only at #8 is a testament to just how much good metal came out this year. This is absolute shred heaven, yet it’s grounded in some absolutely fantastic songs. With a lot of technical albums, the difficulty of the playing can take away from the songwriting, depriving the record of any hooks. With Exmortus, technical ability is merely a means to make more epic hooks; they try to use their abilities to be Manowar instead of Yngwie. I had high hopes for this record, featuring advance track “Immortality Made Flesh” in my list last year, and this record did not disappoint.
7. Behemoth – The Satanist
After a lot of pondering, I’ve decided that Evangelion edges this record by a hair. But just a hair. And Evangelion is one of the best records I’ve heard. Thus, so is The Satanist (Jesus, math proofs are getting to me). This one is a lot less bombastic than its immediate predecessor, yet its warm production, human elements, and thrumming bass give it a unique character within Behemoth’s discography. But don’t let those descriptions lead you to believe these guys have gotten any less ferociously heavy – just see “Ora Pro Nobis Lucifer” for proof. And as amazing a closer as “Lucifer” was, “O Father O Satan O Sun” might be even better. Don’t listen to the naysayers – this record is amazing.
6. At The Gates – At War With Reality
Like everyone else ever, I’m going to compare this record to Surgical Steel. More so, I’m going to explain why I think this record deserves more respect and praise that SS did. Don’t get me wrong: I love SS. But it’s really just Heartwork outtakes, or Heartwork Pt. II. Every Carcass record sounded radically different from all of its predecossors prior to Surgical Steel. They truly were a progressive band, even if it didn’t always turn out amazing (Swansong). I was really hoping Carcass would surprise us with something different on their comeback album, yet they did not.
At the Gates are similar in that regard – each of their previous albums sounded much different from each other, culminating in veritable classic Slaughter of the Soul. And with At War With Reality, the band have continued to evolve, choosing not to write SOTS Pt. II, and instead bringing in elements from across their discography, as well as some absolutely fantastic production.
Sure, there is quite a lot of Slaughter in this record, such as on the one-two punch of “Death and the Labyrinth” and the title track, but songs such as “Order From Chaos” and closer “Night Eternal” would never have made it onto the band’s 1995 album (Speaking of which: ready to feel old? I was exactly 15 days old the last time these lads put out an album). At the Gates continue to progress, and scores big as a result.
5. Thou – Heathen
As with Triptykon, Thou is the kind of heavy that can only be described as FECKING HEAVY. Their brand of sludge is as massive as ever on Heathen, yet they also make sure to mix in some other elements, such as a chant-able refrain in “Free Will”, interludes “Dawn”, “Clarity”, and “Take Off Your Skin And Dance In Your Bones”, and the female voice that pervades “Immorality Dictates”.
We are the stone that starts the avalanche.
We are the cough that spreads the plague.
We are the spark that lights the inferno.
4. Wovenwar – Wovenwar
As I Lay Dying was the first metal band I listened to that could ever be considered extreme (I didn’t get into early Metallica until later on). I still consider An Ocean Between Us to be a masterpiece, and one of my favorite and most nostalgic albums. As ansty as this sounds, Lambesis’s depraved actions, arrest, and imprisonment felt like a betrayal, tarnishing some of the innocence in my early adolescent memories, to which AILD’s music was the soundtrack.
My nostalgic attachment to As I Lay Dying, especially the riffs, melodies, and guitarmonies of Nick Hipa and Phil Sgrosso, probably explains why I love this record so much. Hipa and Sgrosso crank out hook after hook, and while I was skeptical about the dearth of growling, it actually serves to give the band further reign to take melodies wherever they need to go.
Literally every song here is a winner; there isn’t a dud amongst the 14 tracks. “All Rise” gives you a feeling for what the band does, yet songs like “The Mason”, “Profane”, “Archers”, and closer “Prophets” are just as catchy, with easily some of the best melodies you’ll hear this year. With this new start, Wovenwar are set for big things, and I’m totally happy to follow them if it means I’m gonna get more songs like these.
3. Sólstafir – Ótta
I finally got my arse into gear and gave Sólstafir a proper shot this year with this new record. Hot damn, that was one of the better ideas I’ve had lately. A friend of mine described this as “the soundtrack to an Icelandic space cowboy western”, and I find that pretty apt. Whether it’s the swelling melodies of opener “Lágnætti” or the virally infectious banjo line that carries the title track, this record takes you on a magnificent, gorgeous journey you’ll want to repeat again and again. Pro tip: this is also incredibly good music for studying.
2. YOB – Clearing the Path to Ascend
Like a dunce, I took forever to get around to listening to the new YOB record. Not that I had any good reason for it – everything they’ve done ranks among the most masterful records doom metal has spawned, and most recent effort Atma is among my favorites in their discography. Let me tell you, I’m still kicking myself in the pants about a month later for not listening to this the second I could.
Their massive riffs set the stage for panoramic soundscapes of unparalleled beauty, made clear by closer “Marrow”, probably among the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard, and biting at the heels of “The Moor” for my favorite song of all time. A YouTube comment for the song states, “If this band was more mainstream, this song [‘Marrow’] could’ve been the ‘Stairway To Heaven’ of today”. I’m inclined to agree – this thing has definitely earned its spot among the best of the year in nearly every list I’ve seen. Can’t wait to order this one on wax once I get back to campus.
1. Nux Vomica – Nux Vomica
This band and record came completely out of nowhere for me. I don’t even know exactly how I came across it – all I know is that sometime early on this year, I found myself listening to a Soundcloud stream of “Reeling”, and doing a quadruple-take to make sure I was actually hearing what I was hearing. To find out that this was a crust punk band releasing a 3-song, 40-minute album certainly intrigued me, and the fact that they’re able to maintain a crust punk aura amidst the soaring post-rock melodies in this album is still beyond my comprehension.
This record will leave you feeling like you’re drifting along the calm ripples of the sea one moment, then smoothly transition to a veritable monsoon, all without you really noticing when the transition occurred. I’ve been furiously recommending this album to anything that breathes since I got my promo early on in the year (as you’ve probably noticed), and my enthusiasm for the genius and masterful compositions on display on this self-titled LP has not waned a bit since I first heard “Reeling” way back when. Seriously, buy yourself this record, if you really love yourself.
And that’s the list. Tell me what I got right, what I messed up, and what I missed below. Happy New Year from Mammoth Lakes, California (you might have noticed I’m writing this the same place I was last year, in one of our annual family snowboarding trips. SHRED POWDER AND WRITE ABOUT METAL)!