Edward’s Best Albums Of 2014
A lot happened in music in 2014. In heavy metal, 2014 was dubbed the year of “hideous sludge” early on, but like 2013, death metal played a major role in the year’s best albums. Death Grips broke up. People were saddened, not many were surprised. In popular music, record sales were barely a blip, again, not many people were surprised. Personally, I listened to a metric shit ton of new albums this year, as well as a lot of new-to-me albums from past years, without hearing nearly everything I wanted to. I wrote my first-ever article about music for this very website; cries of POSER and LIFELOVER rang out across the Deep Web and into the Void. Electronic music, strangely, came back into my musical diet in a big way in the form of heavy and harsh noise.
Confession: I started this article in September. I incorrectly thought I had nearly picked my choices for my best albums of the year. I had about six or seven selections, but, I kept listening as album after album was released in what became a veritable onslaught of great music and a real struggle for survival. The list changed. It hurt, nay, anguished me to take some of my favorites off of the list to add new, better favorites. There were so many albums in the running for this thing; my list of honorable mentions likely triples this list. The Toilet Ov Hell’s selection process was rigorous, one writer, ten albums, three honorable mentions. We aren’t handing out Effort Ribbons to every kid on the field here.
Two of my honorable mentions that weren’t from 2014 (is that cheating, guys?) were Strife’s Witness A Rebirth (2012) and Prurient’s Palm Tree Corpse (2011); both nearly perfect albums in their own way and albums I dedicated an enormous amount of time to playing. Profound Lore Records dominated my favorite albums of this year. You should not surprised by that. Profound Lore picked up three of my top thirteen spots, Handshake, Inc. picked up two, no other label picked up more than one. This list covers most of heavy metal’s subgenres, death metal, “weirdo” metal, hideous sludge, black metal, grindcore, and is heavily influenced by noise. Okay, okay. Let’s get on with it, Edward. Included with each album is a link that will take you to the music. A note: the top ten albums are not ranked in order of favorites, except the last two, which are.
Herukrat – I Bear Witness – [power electronics] – Total Black
Dead Congregation – Promulgation of the Fall – [death metal] – Profound Lore Records
Couch Slut – My Life As A Woman – [noise rock] – Handshake, Inc.
[technical death metal]
Labyrinth Constellation was 2014’s Colored Sands for me. This one came out early, floored me immediately, and continued to grow on me as the year went on. Labyrinth Constellation features ultra-low end gutturals under a dissonant, heavy, and highly technical assault with only brief lapses to receive transmissions from another galaxy. This ruled the veritable mountain of death metal releases that came out in 2014. Artificial Brain brought a lot of street cred to the table for their debut album. Vocalist Will Smith spent many years fronting the Demilich inspired band Biolich and also did vocals for Buckshot Facelift. Dan Gargiulo also plays guitars and adds vocals for Revocation. I got a chance to see Artificial Brain live this year, and had the chance to chat with vocalist Will Smith, which only strengthened my opinion of these guys. In an even stranger turn of events, a song of theirs (“Absorbing Black Ignition”) was aired during prime time television. Is the world ready to be worm harvested?
Sadly, Gridlink left us as a grindcore unit in 2014. Jon Chang announced his retirement from music, and guitarist Takafumi Matsubara was forced into retirement from “serious infection / inflammation in his brain” which took away his ability to play guitar. Thankfully, they left us with their swansong, Longhena. This will be regarded as their best work together. At twenty one minutes, it is absurdly long for a Gridlink album, but still shorter than many doom tracks. Longhena features hyper technical grind playing, as well as successfully blending slower, softer interludes into the album, a feat few grind bands pull off as well, while still maintaining the respect of trve grind pvrists like Gridlink. This was an early, unshakeable lock for my Best Albums of 2014. Did you ever think a grindcore album could be this pretty? This one happens to be devastatingly beautiful.
The Body & The Haxan Cloak
I Shall Die Here
[sludge metal / electronic music]
On paper, combining The Body’s nihilistic, emergency siren sludge metal with The Haxan Cloak’s electronic subterfuge sounds promising. On record, the results are even better than anticipated. Like Prurient’s Bermuda Drain and Pharmakon’s Abandon, I Shall Die Here opens with a scream. The scream here is high pitched, shrill, and robotic, wailing in and out of a slow, malevolent drum beat until The Body’s signature brand of sludge enters the fray. At times this record feels like a project of The Body, at others it strongly feels like it belongs to The Haxan Cloak. At times I Shall Die Here will bludgeon you, at times it will creep you out, and at times it might make you want to tap your foot. Chip King’s tortured shrikes feel at home as much amidst the sludge as they do The Haxan Cloak’s programming. The Body and The Haxan Cloak are both bringing their best here and I Shall Die Here shines as a representative of all involved and as a collaboration. A serious contender for album highlight is when a vocal sample fades into maniacal drums during “Hail To Thee, Everlasting Pain”; the tension builds into something extraordinary. I Shall Die Here is one of the most underrated albums of 2014. This album also receives the award for “Best Album Title of 2014”; this is how you name an album of heavy music. The Body will keep that tradition alive with next year’s Thou collaboration, You, Whom I Have Always Hated. Expect to see that in the running for
NegroD’s Edward’s Best Albums of 2015.
I am an unashamed El-P fanboy. I have seen him live three times, twice under his solo projects and once with Run The Jewels. His 2007 album I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead is likely my favorite hip hop album of all time, and seeing him tour in support of that in 2008 is one of the best concerts I have ever attended. His music has been labeled “dystopian” by music journalists so often it became a running joke for him. His solo projects are among the most intelligent in hip hop and some of the most genuinely dark. What about Run The Jewels? I was surprised after El-P produced Killer Mike’s R.A.P. Music that they had formed a group, and the music they made was actually fun. RTJ2 improved upon their self titled debut Run The Jewels. El-P and Killer Mike trade rhymes seamlessly, the production is excellent, and special guests compliment the record rather than overfill it. Rage Against The Machine’s Zack de la Rocha stops by to drop one of my favorite verses on this album. El-P and Killer Mike cover politics, sex, hip hop, and getting high with a finesse not often seen at their level of popularity. Run The Jewels’ profile also raised tremendously this year, RTJ2 led to sold out shows for the first time on a national tour. Both artist have long paid their dues in underground rap, it is great to see them getting late career acclaim many have long felt both deserved.
[“Devestating [sic] Avantgarde Black Metal”]
Mories took a (very short) break from his frightening, nightmarish horror soundscapes in Gnaw Their Tongues to release Plague Beasts as Cloak of Altering. It’s black metal filtered through demented electronics with the skill of a classically trained pianist, although Toilet Ov Hell’s own esteemed W. also described it as cybergrind. It’s possible that what Plague Beasts defies in categorization, it makes up for in madness. Like the name of the artist that produced it, this album is constantly shifting, changing, becoming something else and then mutating to our ears and minds in ways we can not possibly predict. Mories as Cloak of Altering uses distant yet corporeal vocals as well as a shifting, unpredictable sonic landscape to pull us further and further “Into Celestial Hell”. Strange melodies surface and draw attention to themselves before they disappear into the murk and songs change all over again. On songs like “White Inverted Void”, Mories’ skills as a programmer and musician become very evident. The first time I heard this album, I was like “uh…”, I did not finish it. It’s a definite grower, it takes time to unlock even a fraction of its secrets. I spent the later part of this year playing Plague Beasts in my car and shouting, “YES, Altering Forever”. This album carved its own unique place into the landscape of heavy music in 2014.
Leytmotif Luzifer – The 7 Temptations of Man
This one was tough for me. The obvious runner up for my black metal pick of the year is Blut Aus Nord’s Memoria Vetusta III – Saturnian Poetry, but I enjoyed Leytmotif Luzifer more. It also had a couple advantages apart from the music: it came out earlier, and it was shorter, both things matter when you work two jobs and aren’t a real metal “blogger”. Leytmotif Luzifer is compact, hopeless, and utterly brutish black metal. The album’s first track “Ego – Temptation 1” explodes with fast tremolo playing, but there is no shortage of riffs or solos here, either. The vocals are nasty, and tracks pause for vaguely anti-religious musical breaks before the violence resumes, and does it resume! The album’s second track, “Stasis – Temptation 2” slows to a catchy, foot tapping headbanger. The album continues to follow suit, holding your head beneath a murky, blackened pool of water. Leytmotif Luzifer… finds an excellent balance between second wave black metal orthodoxy and Deathspell Omega brand dissonance. There are elements similar to Behemoth’s The Satanist here as well, a record I enjoyed very much and would have likely competed for a spot on this list if not for Leytmotif Luzifer.
Eyehategod are one of the earliest sludge metal acts, and certainly progenitors of the hideous sludge style. I am surprised by a couple of things in hearing this record. Eyehategod is surprisingly accessible and tolerable for an Eyehategod album, and I can understand the majority of the lyrics. There’s no shortage of sludgy riffs, however, and they turn up the hardcore and punk influences in their sludge during a good portion of their playing. Eyehategod is undeniably catchy and memorable. This is Eyehategod’s first full length record since 2000, and the last to feature drummer Joey LaCaze, who passed away from respiratory failure in 2013. Eyehategod continue their tradition of true to life stories of hard drugs, prostitution, and life on the wrong side of the tracks. I hope we won’t suffer the long wait for their next new record.
[power electronics / harsh noise wall]
Swallowing Bile’s catharsis is our weakness. On his most fully developed as a concept album yet, Secluded, Swallowing Bile takes us inside the mind of a deranged killer with a singular vision of revenge. Through his toxic brand of power electronics and harsh noise wall, Swallowing Bile seeks to narrate this tale of events while simultaneously pushing the listener to the limits of what is considered “extreme” music. I have said it before, and I will say it again, this is one of the only artists making music or noise today that causes me a physiological change by simply consuming his music. At the end of Secluded, we are unsure if Ethan Ebeling as Swallowing Bile is the narrator of events or if somehow we have been placed in the center of this revenge fantasy as the protagonist. Swallowing Bile is a very active artist; expect to see solo work from him as well as a number of features and splits in 2015. I will be checking for them as well, to my own horror.
[experimental metal / goth rock]
Psalm Zero is a two piece experimental metal band composed of Andrew Hock (of the revered Castavet) and Charlie Looker (of Dirty Projectors, Zs, and Extra Life). Psalm Zero play heavy metal like I imagine Christian Death or The Cure would play heavy metal if that’s what they played (spoiler: I don’t know shit about those bands). This was an early favorite of mine this year, which got set aside amidst the monsoon of 2014 releases. I picked it back up closer to the end of the year, and could not stop listening to it. Over the past couple of months I listened to this more than any other album. If I had to pick a favorite (spoiler: I didn’t have to), this would likely come in second place. Charlie Looker handles the clean singing here, and Andrew Hock handles the screams and shouts. The vocalists work seamlessly together, as well as how the music transitions from catchy gothic playing into heavier music and back without missing a beat. The drums here are programmed, which you may find fault in, but I have next to no complaints about this album. It’s catchy, melodic, deep, and heavy, taking as much from outside influences like jazz as it does from heavy metal. This is forward thinking, outside the box music played by highly skilled musicians at the peak of their talents.
The Mother of Virtues
[death metal / noise rock / “weirdo metal”]
It’s not personal, Toilet.
Stay weird death forever.
Photo via HBO; all album covers are the property of each respective artist or label.