The Best Albums of 2014: TovH Editor’s Picks
Today your friendly editors are sharing their picks for the best of 2014. Ch-ch-check it.
W.’s Top 10 of 2014
10. Piss Vortex – Piss Vortex | Independent
Although there are other albums I listened to more than Piss Vortex this year, this band flushed out the competition to secure my number 10 spot for one simple reason: they’re the only ones I know of doing what they do. These mad Danes blend together two of my absolute favorite things: aggressive grind and brain-bending dissonance. On their self-titled release, Piss Vortex have demonstrated that a healthy serving of skronk can make even the nastiest and most piss-and-vinegar-filled grind even nastier and more piss-and-vinegary. Check out “Our Maker’s Invisible Hand” and flush yourself down the world-famous Piss Vortex ov hell.
Listen to — “Our Maker’s Invisible Hand”
9. Giant Squid – Minoans | Translation Loss Records
Giant Squid is one of the most consistently entertaining and captivating bands in modern metal, even if the term “metal” only loosely applies to them. Giant Squid paint with broad strokes from a diverse palette, connecting balmy atmospherics and expansive cinematics into a truly epic story that relays the doomed fate of the inhabitants of Crete. There are plenty of crushing, pelagic riffs that roar and batter like tidal waves, but the lush theatrical and tender moments are just as rewarding. Vocalist Aaron Gregory sounds like a mad, drowned prophet foretelling destruction and peril in a distinctly Tom Waits-esque fashion over the rich cello lines of Jackie Perez Gratz while the more tried and true metal instruments ebb and flow behind them. This album is both a dire listen and a rich experience and definitely deserves a spot on any year-end list.
Listen to — “Mycenaeans”
8. Baring Teeth – Ghost Chorus Among Old Ruins | Willowtip
In 2013, Gorguts firmly planted the flag of dissonant death metal upon the skronk tower they first built with Obscura. In 2014, worthy contenders for the dissonant throne have emerged to join the battle and test their brain-bending alchemy against the legends who trod the astral planes before them. Baring Teeth is one such young band of up-starts. Hailing from Dallas, Texas but purveying a distinctly otherwordly craft, Baring Teeth have won my vote for creating the most hypnotic album of 2014. Rarely do I press repeat immediately after finishing an album, but Ghost Chorus Among Old Ruins is so captivating and compelling that it requires multiple listens to drink in its depth and scope. This is inhuman death metal birthed by interdimensional genius.
Listen to — “Visitant”
7. Pyrrhon – The Mother of Virtues | Relapse Records
My main metal blog squeeze Ed has already talked ad nauseum about this band, so I’m not going to say too much here. Somewhere between Fever Kingdoms and The Mother of Virtues, alien overlords took over the bodies of Pyrrhon‘s members and forced them to create one of the most esoteric and off-kilter albums you’ll here. This is a paradigm shift for Death Metal, if it can even be considered that, and you’ll need multiple listens before you can even attempt tp wrap your head around it. Disclaimer: it’s totally worth all the time you give it.
Listen to — “White Flag”
6. Cloak of Altering – Plague Beasts | Crucial Blast
After listening to Plague Beasts multiple times, I’ve come to believe that Mories may in fact be Caligula and has existed from the morning of the world and shall exist until the last star falls from the night. Although he has temporarily taken the form of Cloak of Altering, he is every artist as he is no artist and is therefore a god within metal. As mercurial and effervescent as it is punishing and hideous, the this form of Mories offers us a lesson in inhuman extremity that far surpasses the known limits of human endurance. Call it black metal. Call it cybergrind. Call it avant-garde. Cloak of Altering by any other name would still be as impenetrable and daunting. A must listen for fans of the extreme.
Listen to — “Chaos Magician of the Abyss”
5. Allegaeon – Elements of the Infinite | Metal Blade
I’ve been a fan of Allegaeon since their debut full-length Fragments of Form and Function, so although I’ve abandoned the tech death ship before its inevitable collide with a tremendous wankery iceberg, I’m still a fan of these guys from my home state Colorado. What sets Allegaeon apart? The songs, you dullard. While other tech death bands are content to simply masturbate with their instruments onto a song with no discernible shape or function, Allegaeon know how to craft rifts and shifts that serve the function of the song and the album as a whole. Plus, they’ve got a sense of the melodic to boot, and the ever-present fingerprints of NWOBHM giants are still evident here. Even more interesting though, is that Allegaeon are one of two bands on my list carrying the spiritual torch of the now-defunct Nevermore, and I say they fill those shoes better than Jeff Loomis‘s recent projects ever could.
Listen to — “1.618”
4. Sanctuary – The Year the Sun Died | Century Media
The other band filling that Nevermore-shaped hole in my heart? Why, Sanctuary of course! The revitalized power/prog band carries on where Nevermore’s The Obsidian Conspiracy left off (and is actually superior to that farewell album, in my opinion). Jim Sheppard, and co. continue to march on under the apocalyptic weight of Warrel Dane’s cataclysmic lyrics deftly, and Dane himself sounds as good as ever. This album isn’t terribly extreme, but rather presents a great study in how awesome song-based prog metal really can be.
Listen to — “Let the Serpent Follow Me”
3. Blood of Kingu – Dark Star on the Right Horn of the Crescent Moon | Season of Mist
I’ve already written an extensive review of this album comparing it to a chthonic journey through the inferno, and I stand by that. Ultimately, though, this is a great black metal album that is as savage as it is majestic. Great songwriting with a dedication to detail and a sense of grandeur meets interesting technique and a momentous vocal delivery to create something palpable and memorable. This is my number one black metal release of the year, and I look forward to more from this band.
Listen to “Mother Hydra”
2. Torrential Downpour – Truth Knowledge Vision | Independent
Imagine for a moment that Between the Buried and Me hadn’t plateaued with Colors but rather had continued their natural trajectory out into the stratosphere. In this hypothetical timeline, Torrential Downpour found BTBAM’s space capsule and, in a moment of galactic rivalry, crafted a legendary epic to rival Earth’s offering. That effort is Truth Knowledge Vision. Straddling the line between prog, death metal, and psychedelia, the band plays a melange of genres that they fairly title “space metal” and that is wholly beautiful, wholly demanding, and wholly captivating. The delicate symbiotic relationship between the sublime and violent is on full display here as a testament to all that art may achieve. This album is intoxicating. Strap yourself in for the ride.
Listen to — “The Offering”
1. Artificial Brain – Labyrinth Constellation | Profound Lore
Let’s be real. You knew I was going to pick the alien death metal overlords in Artificial Brain for the best of 2014. I already told you as much and haven’t stopped raving about Labyrinth Constellation since it dropped back in February. Still, no amount of praise I can heap on this album will be enough. This is, to my humble ears, the pinnacle of dissonant death metal thus far. Harrowing, brilliant tracks each stand alone but also amalgamate to create an album that is both captivating and demanding, ugly and rewarding. Artificial Brain have slain all contenders for the throne atop weird death mountain, and they rule undisputed. If you think death metal has run its course, you obviously didn’t listen to this album. Don’t miss it.
Listen to — “Labyrinth Constellation”
Swallowed – Lunarterial | Dark Descent | Listen to “Black Phlegm”
Myopic/Torrid Husk – Crawling Mountain Apogee | Grimoire Records | Listen to “Unction in Passing” and “And ballasted the Elk”
Slugdge – Gastronomicon | Independent | Listen to “Salters of Madness”
Masterlord Steel Dragon’s Top 10 of 2014
10. Pyre – Human Hecatomb | Chaos Records
In my review of Human Hecatomb, I compared all of you to a pig and then to Pyre. Or something like that. But it was a good thing, if I remember correctly. Anyways, Pyre is the best Swedish death metal band from Russia, and in Human Hecatomb they take the OSDM schema (over which they demonstrate a complete and effortless mastery) and add even more headbang for your buck. The boys know their way around a riff like the back of their Boss HM-2s, and Dym Nox’s vocular assault will assblast you back to 1991. This is good, nasty, old-fashioned fun.
Listen to —“Merciless Disease” and “Flesh to Poles”
9. Teitanblood – Death | Norma Evangelium Diaboli
Anyone who hasn’t taken Teitanblood’s suffocating journey to the deepest depths of deep depths is doing metal all wrong in 2014, if you ask this two-bit, 8-bit metal blogger. Death is deadly. You’ll hear this class of death/black described as “controlled chaos,” and while not altogether amiss, I’d argue that “controlled” is too strong a word. Death is unbridled, volatile. The guys in Teitanblood don’t control it, but steer it along, like a Border Collie directing an unruly herd of sheep. Only the herd of sheep is rampant, blackened chaos leaving doomed nothingness in its wake, and the Border Collie is a Satan.
Listen to – “Sleeping Throats of the Antichrist”
8. Taake – Stridens hus | Dark Essence Records
Evidently Taake tried as hard as possible avoid any possibility of being on any end-of-the-year lists by releasing Stridens hus on December 8th. But that didn’t stop this rabid fanboy, no siree. You have to hand it to Hoest, the guy has been remarkably consistent in quality since his late arrival to the second wave of black metal in 1999 with Nattestid ser portens vid. Stridens hus is a welcome addition to his amusingly self–portrait–esque discography. You can always count on Taake to provide near-flawless black metal with a uniquely quirky edge. And no, I’m not just talking about the goddamn banjo.
Listen to – “Det fins en prins”
7. Sacrocurse – Unholier Master | Iron Bonehead Productions
The credit for discovering this burner goes to our pal Tyree and his indefatigable ransacking of Bandcamp. Unholier Master was his diamond in the
rough towering heap of only-slightly less brilliant diamonds. With it, Sacrocurse wrested the war metal throne from worthy Diocletian and previously-mentioned Teitanblood with far more authority than you’d ever expect from a newcomer. Unholier Master is as savagely ripping as it was unforeseen, and it could (and should) serve as a masterclass for bestial death production. Seriously. Everyone make your album sound exactly like this. This is a concise 35 minutes of pure lethality.
Listen to – “C.O.N.V.U.L.S.E.” and “Unholier Master”
6. Twilight Force – Tales of Ancient Prophecies | Black Lodge Records
Metal is campy in general, and power metal undoubtedly most of all. That being said, the campiest bands in power metal come off as deadpan serious when weighed against Swedish newcomers Twilight Force. Yes, it’s endearing how unapologetically they embrace the clichéd cheese of European power metal (floridly overwrought solos, intentionally over-acted narration, testicle-destroying choruses, multiple mentions of dragons, it’s all here), but it’s the songcraft that’s truly exceptional. Each proper song is somehow catchier than all the others, and if that doesn’t make any sense to you it’s because you haven’t listened to the damn thing and also because it actually doesn’t make sense at all. Christian Hedgren is carried by his outrageous voice to heights no man has reached, and his melodies are wizard magic.
Listen to – “Power of the Ancient Force” and “Twilight Horizon”
5. StarGazer – A Merging to the Boundless | Nuclear War Now!
A Merging to the Boundless dropped in December and clawed its way up this list in a manner of days. Who knows how far it would’ve gone if it were released earlier and had longer to resonate. I can’t stop listening to the damned thing. A continuation of StarGazer’s freshly original take on metal, drawing from both black and death liberally but synthesizing them with an experimental approach all their own. Their greatest skill is expertly dancing between tonality and atonality, impregnating dissonance with melody and melody with dissonance. Plus, The Great Righteous Destroyer (also known as Damon Good of Mournful Congregation) slaughters the fretless bass.
Listen to – “Black Gammon,” “A Merging into the Boundless,” “The Grand Equalizer”
4. Dead Congregation – Promulgation of the Fall | Martyrdoom Productions
Hopefully it’s not a surprise for any of you to hear that there’s been quite the hubbub surrounding Dead Congregation this year. I consider Promulgation of the Fall to be some pretty outstanding proof that sometimes, albeit rarely, that blasted hype train is running on the right tracks. Dead Congregation stand apart from the derivative horde of Incantation clones, daring to take the cavernous order of death metal and drive it forward into new, exciting territory.
Listen to – “Only Ashes Remain” and “Serpentskin”
3. Domains – Sinister Ceremonies | The Sinister Flame
In a year of killer death metal, I deem the full-length debut from Spain’s Domains the killerest of all. Clearly not pulling influence from one particular band or specific style, Sinister Ceremonies could be read as a synoptic study of the whole of 90’s death metal; blasting, cruising, and crushing its way through the decade while somehow managing to remain distinctly singular and refreshingly novel. Endless riffs blanketed in thick, doom-ridden smoke trade off with serpentine leads and guitar solos with a satiating tone of pure evil slime. This is exactly what death metal should sound like.
Listen to – “Raped by Darkness” and “Crowned at Dusk”
2. Blut Aus Nord – Memoria Vetusta III: Saturnian Poetry | Debemur Morti
Howard Dean’s absurdly good review has rendered any additional words regarding Memoria Vetusta III utterly redundant. Thus, I quote from its hallowed lines: “Huge, soaring guitar melodies, tasteful keyboard interplay, a mix of clean and harsh vocals, and the band’s most holistic drumming performance ever combine to create an album rife with immediately memorable passages and a palpable atmosphere, and repeated listens will reveal nuggets of minutiae scattered about the album. The envy of all black metal locker rooms, this album is both a grower and a shower. You will be flattened by your first listen, and prepare to pick your haggard ass up from the floor upon each subsequent spin.”
Listen to – “Paein” and “Tellus Mater”
1. Noble Beast – Noble Beast | Tridroid Records
If you know me, you knew this would be here. Deep down you know it belongs here. Or deep down you’re wrong. Not only is Noble Beast an outstanding debut, it’s a perfect album. And I don’t throw the word “perfect” around unless you get me talking about Jon Hamm’s jawline. Singer/guitarist Rob Jalonen’s masterly riffsmithing and baritone croon put the “P” in “USPM,” and remind us there’s room in the genre for muscle (read Randall Thor’s interview with him here). Noble Beast kicks copious amounts of ass from start to finish, and then over and over again because you put it on repeat because it’s so stupid good. A modern power metal classic.
Listen to – “We Burn,” “Behold the Face of Your Enemy,” and “On Wings of Steel”
Sinmara – Aphotic Womb | Terratur Possession | Listen to “Cursed Salvation“
Nasheim – Solens vemod | Northern Silence Productions | Listen to “Jag fyller…“
Swallowed – Lunarterial | Dark Descent Records | Listen to “Arterial Mists of Doom”
Joe Thrashnkill’s Top 10 of 2014
10. Midnight – No Mercy for Mayhem | Hell’s Headbangers
You’ve somehow made it to this here Internet Web Log (or “blog”, if you will) so you probably have some kind of passing interest in the musical genre known as “Heavy Metal”. Knowing literally nothing else about you, I can confidently say you will love No Mercy for Mayhem. This record is a throwback to the days when “speed metal” was an actual term used by metal fans and not a meaningless descriptor used by clueless writers on network television programs. I highly recommend putting on this record, sipping on 4-5 hundred beers, and pretending to be all evil and stuff.
Listen to – “Evil Like a Knife”
9. Sea Oleena – Shallow | Lefse Records
I was first introduced to Sea Oleana in a rare non-metal entry in our buddy Tyree’s recurring column “Getting Laid at Bandcamp”. Shallow is soft, airy record with gorgeous melodies. Do not be confused, this is not a pop record; you won’t get hooks or choruses or synth lines with Sea Oleena. Listen to this record with the intention of having an out of body experience, floating along in the hazy atmosphere.
Listen to – “If I’m”
8. Punch – They Don’t Have to Believe | Deathwish
How do you feel about straightedge, vegan, feminist powerviolence? Personally, I’m a shameless drunk that loves pizza. Feminism is cool though. But powerviolence? That’s my SHIT and Punch have released some of the finest PV records of the last few years. They Don’t Have to Believe may be their finest album yet. If you like your rage of the righteous variety, you must check out this album. It’s a damn shame but rumor has it that this may be their last record : ( If so, I’m glad Punch closed it on such a high note.
Listen to – “Worth More Than Your Opinion”
7. The War on Drugs – Lost in the Dream | Secretly Canadian
I’m a dude that could be described as “tight-wound”. I work too many hours, don’t sleep much, and I’m constantly nervous. Lost in the Dream is a perfect emotional salve for uptight nerds like me. The record is a strange amalgamation of Dylan-esque vocals, light country influences, 70s classic rock, a few bales of marijuana smoke, and a downer or two to top off the whole concoction. Put this record on with some headphones and go explore a new area of town. Just go for a walk with Lost in the Dream and do exactly that.
Listen to – “Under the Pressure,” “Red Eyes,” and “Disappearing”
6. Expire – Pretty Low | Bridge Nine
“Refuse to let my life be reduced to rubble,
When the shit keep piling up, get a shovel”
This is by far the best hardcore record of 2014. If you have merely a passing interest in the genre, you must check out Pretty Low.
Listen to – “Pretty Low,” “Second Face”
5. Sturgill Simpson – Metamodern Sounds in Country Music | Independent
To so many educated folks with a few brain cells to rub together, country music is anathema. It is a damned shame. For decades, talentless hacks like Tim McGraw and Toby Keith have left a big black mark on a genre that is loaded with brilliant artists. Thank God for Sturgill Simpson, an independent artist in Nashville who has shattered expectations and (very recently) achieved mainstream success. Metamodern Sounds in Country Music is heartfelt and weird and spacey. I love it and I want you to as well.
Listen to – “Turtles All the Way Down” and “The Promise”
4. Code Orange
Kids – I am King | Deathwish
With I am King Code Orange made a massive change to the Hardcore-for-evil-kids formula they nailed on 2012’s Love Is Love/Return to Dust in addition to just dropping the “Kids” from their moniker. I am King is an aesthetically interesting blend of dark 90’s Alternative rock and heavier than heavy metal. Note the extreme changes between low-key opener “I am King” to the massive fuck-all breakdown that constitutes the entirety of “Slowburn”. I have no idea how Code Orange can top this record in terms of heaviness but I am not ready.
Listen to – “Slowburn” and “Dreams in Inertia”
3. Iron Reagan – The Tyranny of Will | Relapse
Tony Foresta and Phil Hall spearheaded the neo-thrash revival of the mid-2000s with Municipal Waste. Not content with just releasing a bunch of great records for party bros to get smashed to, they set their sights on punk/metal hybrid crossover with Iron Reagan. The Tyranny of Will is by far their best work yet with some of the catchiest tunes of the year. Be careful: these songs will work their way into your head and could cause you to exclaim anti-social sentiments at the worst possible time. Sorry sis. But to be fair, your kid IS an asshole.
Listen to – “Broken Bottles,” and “Close to Toast”, “Your Kid’s an Asshole”
2. Panopticon – Roads to the North | Bindrune Recordings
I’m really not sure what else I can add to the mountains of praise Roads to the North has so deservedly received. This record is a brilliant blend of blistering black metal and traditional folk and if you haven’t listened to it yet you have fucked up.
Listen to – “The Echoes of a Disharmonic Evensong,” “Where Mountains Pierce the Sky,” and “One Last Fire (The Long Road Pt I)”
1. A Pregnant Light – My Game Doesn’t Have a Name | Colloquial Sound Recordings
Damien Master left his bedroom and entered a studio to record the latest album for his one-man black metal-ish project A Pregnant Light. Though Master describes APL as “Purple Metal” and he shouts through much of the record with a haggard hardcore bark, My Game Doesn’t Have a Name doesn’t have much in common with any kind of metal. This record exists in a cross-section between Fucked Up‘s later releases, Woods 5‘s emotional resonance, and the sparkling 80s sounds of The Smiths or even Eddie Money. The massive drums and hauntingly melodic guitar work throughout the record combine with Damien’s wounded clean vocals and his crushing barks to create a perfect, fist-pumping document and the best album of 2014.
Listen to – “Born to Ruin,” “Fresh Flower Offering (Purple Night),” and “You Cut Me From a Magazine I Didn’t Know I was In”
Haken – Restoration | Inside Out Music | Listen to “Crystallised“ | Read the review
Martyrdöd – Elddop | Southern Lord | Listen to “Mer Skada Än Nytta“
Godflesh – A World Lit Only by Fire | Avalanche | Listen to “New Dark Ages”