So, we’ve emerged blinking and stumbling from the hellacious excesses of the holiday season into the breath-steaming, unforgiving chill of another year. As ever, a hell of a lot of music was released in 2014, and as is customary for a bunch of dedicated opinion-sharers such as your faithful servants here are OneMetal, it falls to us once more to point out exactly which of the many, many releases that dropped we deemed to be the tip of the top, the cream of the crop, and the undisputed leaders of the pack.
Before we get to our writers’ individual lists of top five picks, however, we thought we’d try something a little different this year. While editor Phil Whitehouse was beavering away on formatting, editing and assembling everyone’s picks into handy article form, Ryan Neal did some number-crunching. Having fed the salient details of every participating staff member’s picks into OneMetal’s newly-developed InfoTron 5000 (that’s what we call the unfortunate graphics intern we’ve got shackled by his ankle to a PC running Paint Shop Pro 5), he ended up receiving this handy infographic which shares some interesting statistical trivia about our choices this year;
Fascinating stuff, I’m sure you’ll agree – thanks Ryan and InfoTron 5000!
Enough statistical shilly-shalling, however – it’s time for the main event. From here until the bottom of the page are each OneMetal staff member’s picks for the top five releases of 2014, complete with links to Facebook pages for each artist and an embedded YouTube video or Soundcloud track from each one so you can check out stuff you might not have heard. Just before collapsing face-down onto his keyboard, Phil even managed to put together a Spotify playlist featuring tracks from forty of the forty-five releases listed below – you can find that here;
Well, that’s enough foreplay – on with the main event!
Michael Baker’s Top Five
#5: Bo Ningen – III
Before I begin, let me just list a few albums that this album administered a beat down to – Babymetal (yes, really), Z2, The Satanist, 5: The Grey Chapter, Redeemer of Souls…there were quite a few. A part of me really wanted to put Babymetal here because I genuinely believe it to be both amazing and one of the most important metal albums of the year. But I couldn’t do it…because Bo Ningen wouldn’t let me. Bo Ningen are going to do something massive soon. I don’t know when, I just know. Each album has been its own little story, developing with each listen; and, as with all stories, they beg to become an opus. Seemingly locked away in their own little experimental bubble, listening to Bo Ningen‘s albums is like being transported into their domain. They place you completely under their control. They might not have created something perfect yet, but they certainly are doing a fine job of defining themselves and delivering something honestly different to proceedings. Quality wins out with this one.
Bo Ningen’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/boningenofficial
#4: Dog Fashion Disco – Sweet Nothings
They’re back. What a surprise this was – after a very successful crowd funding campaign, the not-Mike-Patton-but-Mike-Patton act returned with all the grace of that uncle who arrives halfway through Christmas dinner, covered in vomit and having parked his submarine on the lawn. Proving once again that they are very much their own beast – even with the inevitable Patton comparisons – Dog Fashion Disco proved they are still as fresh as they were when they started by following the giant clown footsteps that no one else dared follow: those of Mr Bungle. A sporadic riot from start to finish, the layered experience within leaves you guessing just what could happen next and whether that will include the use of a bassoon. A hoot.
Dog Fashion Disco’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DogFashionDisco
#3: Crosses – Crosses
This is a tricky one. Chino Moreno here has made an album that isn’t really all that metal, an album that is more a collection of previously released EPs, and an album that has a title that short-circuits language centres as effectively as repeatedly stamping yourself in the face with a device that dispenses Jack Dee’s famous explosive jaguars. Seriously, don’t name your album with symbols. But to deny it for that is quite simply to deny one of the most atmospheric darkwave albums of the year. A slow-moving, dense fog of an album, Chino’s voice acts as an anchor in the dark void of these strangling soundscapes. Beneath the thick undercurrents lay roots of hooks that sneak about you until you discover yourself humming along to them whilst trying to get some Pick ‘N’ Mix in the empty husk that used to be Woolworths.
Crosses’ Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CrossesMusic
#2: Opeth – Pale Communion
This is the album equivalent of getting a new child and telling your old one to play in traffic whilst juggling really angry alligators. Not happy with just continuing the path set by the controversial Heritage, Pale Communion eclipses its predecessor in almost every way. A 70s influence there, more than a dab of Steven Wilson and, most importantly, a very confident Åkerfeldtat the helm. Say what you will about the shedding of their death metal roots, what’s left is a pure streamlined specimen of what Opeth have been doing for decades. With some of the strongest tracks Opeth have ever produced, the whole is certainly more than the sum of its parts. If Opeth are set to continue with such gems as ‘Moon Above, Sun Below’ and ‘Faith In Others’ then we should be very excited about their new direction indeed. A lesson in subtlety.
Opeth’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Opeth
#1: Destrage – Are You Kidding Me? No.
Destrage came out of nowhere with this album – well, technically, they came out of Italy, but that’s less punchy. Destrage’s progressive mathcore delivered a barbed wire-wrapped haymaker creatively, with the riffs pulsing and waltzing like the horrific malformed offspring of Sikth, The Dillinger Escape Plan and The Mars Volta. From its onset till its titular closer, this album effortlessly seduces you with huge sing-a-long choruses armed with tantalising grooves whilst sheer brutal dissonance waits around the corner with a tire iron ready to take your new hat. A fantastic creative undertaking that never loses sight of what it is: a fist-shaking, chorus-chanting drunk guy in a mosh pit who doesn’t make a lot of sense, but is very likely to buy you a pint afterward the show. An outstanding achievement and a reminder that you don’t have to be a stoic recluse to create something truly interesting and vibrant.
Destrage’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Destrage
Nicholas Cleeve’s Top Five
Monuments – The Amanuensis
Monuments are a band talented almost beyond compare – both guitarist John Browne and drummer Mike Malyan stand out among the best in their fields. The band’s one weakness has been at the front – ‘Samsara’ could well describe the constant departure and reincarnation that has afflicted their vocalists recently. However, there is absolutely no sign of disorder in this second release from one of djent’s finest proponents.
Despite its complexity, The Amanuensis simultaneously captures the atmospheric beauty of Uneven Structure and the immediate, compulsive heaviness of eighth-string chuggers like Born of Osiris. Ex-Periphery frontman Chris Barretto absolutely matches the mountain-high skill level of his bandmates and establishes himself as the band’s definitive voice, handling guttural lows and bright cleans with equal flair.
Monuments’ Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/thisismonuments
#4: Bloodbath – Grand Morbid Funeral
In a year where heaviness was often defined by dropping ever fatter strings to new lows, Bloodbath‘s treble-focused sound and Nick Holmes’ rasping voice have a distinctive sharpness to them. Till now I’ve not been too excited by bands that sing about gore and blasphemy, but Grand Morbid Funeral shows there is still time for me to become a grim convert. Held together by a monstrous rhythm guitar tone that sounds like it was recorded in a defiled cathedral, this is a masterful resurrection of old school death metal’s rotten corpse.
Bloodbath’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/bloodbathband
3: The Algorithm – Octopus4
The Algorithm‘s Rémi Gallego is basically tech-metal’s Mikael Akerfeldt and Heston Blumenthal – an almighty musical authority who distils his broad and esoteric tastes into his own interpretation of heaviness. One influence which looms particularly large over this album is video game soundtracks. Sounding somewhere between Health’s fuzzy-headed background to Max Payne 3 and classic bullet hell chiptunes, Octopus4‘s ever-shifting soundscapes are begging to be set to some tactical espionage action.
This is a glorious electro-metal singularity that is more than the sum of its many varied parts. Djent, rap, synthpop and EDM find a place in Octopus4‘s digital crucible – among many other influences – but nothing feels like Rémi is dabbling outside of his comfort zone. Combined with his rejection of guitars in favour of synths and other electronics, this all-encompassing approach has made The Algorithm unique.
The Algorithm’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TheAlg0r1thm
#2: Gridlink – Longhena
“Grind 2.0.” is a bold mission statement, but few albums are as bold as Longhena. Gridlink have refined and condensed tech-death’s most ferocious matter into outbursts of trem-picking and blastbeats that rarely exceed two minutes, but somehow remain entirely coherent.
Takafumi Matsubara’s guitar work is all about swiftly moving from riff to riff – he manages to fit more memorable ideas into the minute-long duration of ‘Ketsui’ than many guitarists would manage in an EP. Above this Jon Chang’s vicious keening is a constantly abrasive presence; he has the perfect voice for an album so utterly without compromise. Melding string interludes and surprisingly melodic guitar with some of the most extreme sonic violence unleashed this year, Gridlink‘s swansong leaves a leviathan-sized wake behind them.
Gridlink’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/GridLink512
#1: Bloodshot Dawn – Demons
The proof of a great album is when it surpasses its influences. Though Demons is absolutely a disciple of guitar fetishist melodeath bands like Scar Symmetry and Arch Enemy, it brings new fire and aggression to the genre. Janne Jaloma’s relentless blasting and the absence of clean vocals almost make it an extreme metal album, but Demons‘ spectacular lead guitars reveal its roots.
Nowhere is this clearer than ‘The Image Faded’, which is practically a seven-minute guitar battle in praise of Bloodshot Dawn‘s predecessors. The band even bring in four iconic masters of the shred to compete with Josh McMorran and Ben Ellis. Though they play far beyond 11 throughout Demons, tight songwriting keeps their flamboyance from overwhelming it. The result is a virtuosic album that is far catchier than anything this heavy should be capable of being. A work of passion and exceptional craft, no one else is melding melody and extremity with this level of finesse.
Bloodshot Dawn’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/BloodshotDawn
Henry Fogarty’s Top Five
#5: Pariso & Svalbard – Split LP
Showing a musical maturity and originality far beyond what one might expect from two relative newcomers, Londoners Pariso and Bristol’s Svalbard went above and beyond with this part collaboration/part split release. Each band contributed a clutch of awe-inspiring new tracks that saw them push their own boundaries and break new, dark and exhilarating territory in the post metal/hardcore realm, bookended by two captivating collaborative efforts. Definitely two bands to watch out for.
#4: Winterfylleth – The Divination of Antiquity
Spot the Johnny-come-lately with this choice, but having not really got to grips with Winterfylleth’s output before, 2014 was the year the penny dropped. In The Divination of Antiquity all the elements of the quartet’s folk-tinged black metal are fused with subtle shades of light that send the spirits soaring and crashing like a storm upon the moors. The band yolks an almost archaeological examination of English culture and heritage to a cinematic musical blueprint to produce something majestic and timeless.
Winterfylleth’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Winterfylleth
#3: Machine Head – Bloodstone & Diamonds
Underwhelmed by 2011’s Unto the Locust and given the Oakland heavyweights’ curiously disappointing Bloodstock headlining appearance in 2012, I wasn’t sure what to expect when the band announced their return in 2014. Throw in to the mix the loss of a founding member and a period of apparent burnout, and all bets were off. Within five seconds of opener ‘Now we Die’, any fears are allayed by sheer gleeful carnage. Seamlessly blending melody and pace with unabashed chest-beating aggression, it’s good for all as ails you. Album number eight also sees the band broadening their sound, with the Deftones-shuffle of ‘Beneath the Silt’ and the epic ‘Sail into the Black’ just two such examples.
Machine Head’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MachineHead
#2: Mastodon – Once More ‘Round the Sun
In 2014 Mastodon managed the deft trick of being defiantly rebellious by releasing the most mainstream record of their career. The songs were shorter, the choruses were bigger and the musicianship tighter than ever, while the Atlanta metal titans crammed in a glorious array of styles, tones and moods, taking elements of punk, NWOBHM and others and making them their own. The new additions should also provide the missing light and shade sometimes wanting in the band’s live show (having missed out on tickets in 2014, here’s counting down to Hellfest to find out).
Mastodon’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Mastodon
#1: Against Me! – Transgender Dysphoria Blues
Releasing a new album can be nervy at the best of times, let alone when it follows four years after a career high, and a period of line-up changes and upheavals. Oh, and it’s the first since your singer made headlines the world over by coming out as transgender. So when Laura Jane Grace (née Tom Gabel) and the company returned to kick off 2014, it was downright thrilling to discover not only an automatic candidate for Album of the Year, but also one of the finest punk records of the decade and beyond. From the unapologetic autobiographical title track to rousing closer ‘Black Me Out’ (a massive F.U. to the faithless), it’s a non-stop barrage of glorious melodies, spiky invective and pure emotion, wrapped up in hooks big enough to land a whale. The band then spent the rest of the year demonstrating to audiences the world over that the joyous rebel zeal didn’t stop at the studio, either.
Against Me!’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AgainstMe
Dani Hawkins’ Top Five
#5: Anaal Nathrakh – Desideratum
Confession time: it took a few listens to engage with Desideratum because of the ultra-slick production job and to be honest my first listen was not a favourable one. It was unmistakeably Anaal Nathrakh but I thought it lacked wallop, thinking that music as unrestrainedly violent as this should not sound so polished. Thank fuck I’m a persistent sod, as repeated listens chased the qualms away to let me fully enjoy what is yet another triumphant and terrifying amalgam of industrial confusion and black metal noise topped by the unearthly talents of vocalist Dave Hunt. On a side note, Anaal Nathrakh cemented themselves as my ‘best live band of 2014′ when they toured Desideratum in October and devastated a room full of baying Plymothians.
Anaal Nathrakh’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Anaalnathrakhofficial
#4: Mariachi El Bronx – III
Unlike the other intrepid buggers on the good ship OneMetal, I quickly get bored of wall-to-wall noise. Thank arse, then, for Mariachi El Bronx – LA hardcore punkers The Bronx‘s more chirpy alter-egos – and their cheery take on Mexican folk music with a contemporary twist. This third album is a slightly different and even experimental creature, sounding a little more pensive than its two predecessors which beam with sunshine from start to finish, but it’s still imbued with a charm and energy that would be perfect listening on a balmy summer’s evening.
Mariachi El Bronx’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/mariachielbronx
#3: Nothing – Guilty of Everything
‘Endlessly’ is absolutely the best track I’ve heard by any band this year. If Philadelphian shoegazers Nothing had simply put out an album featuring that song eight or nine times, they would have hit my list’s top spot. From the achingly hopeful first chords to the total “fuck this” futility of the closing track, ‘Guilty of Everything’ is a powerful and often uncomfortably sincere album that blends the bouncy melancholy of 1990s alt-rock with the Smashing Pumpkins‘ walls of fuzz and then serves it up studded with razorblades to stick in your throat. It’s not strictly metal, but it’s fucking heavy all the same.
Nothing’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/BANDOFNOTHING
#2: Sonance – Blackflower
I was lucky enough to see Sonance twice in the space of a month this year, first at Temples (at which they were my band of the weekend) and then exactly two weeks later at a very intimate little gig here in Plymouth. Both performances were nothing short of life-affirming and it’s pleasing to report that Bristol’s heaviest sons lose no impact in the studio. Blackflower is a masterpiece of post-metal headfuckery in the vein of Cult of Luna‘s more labyrinthine moments, bathing you in gentle layers of delicate sound before grabbing you by the hair and shrieking into your face like the demon in Aphex Twin‘s ‘Come to Daddy’ video. I advise you to keep a very close eye on these chaps next year.
Sonance’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/sonancenoise
#1: The Kendal Black Drops – Into the Never Ending
Yes, it’s not metal, but it’s my Top 5 so shut your mouth and open your ears to this odd but quite outstanding album. The brainchild of Paul Fyfe, former frontman of the very sadly disbanded Winters, The Kendal Black Drops take garage rock and dope it with a doleful, slightly doomy vibe to give each track a charming wooziness reminiscent (in their words) of “The Ramones on downers”. It’s difficult to explain what I like so much about this album but it stuck in my skull from the minute the title track first chugged out of my earphones and it hasn’t left my listening device since I purchased it at the beginning of the year. Keep an eye out for these gents in 2015 as well, as there is word of a new album on the horizon.
The Kendal Black Drops’ Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/kendalblackdrops
Ross Jenner’s Top Five
#5: Against Me! – Transgender Dysphoria Blues
Contemplating one’s own identity and ideology can be one of the most difficult processes we go through in life, and Laura Jane Grace is a testament to the strength and grit that it takes to truly show yourself to the world. People will snipe but the songs from Transgender Dysphoria Blues come from a genuine place, and you’d be hard pressed to find a more honest, pained, and life-affirming record released in 2014. There’s a suppressed rage that seeps out in certain tracks like the brutally honest title track, which then explodes with songs such as ‘Drinking with the Jocks’, breaking down male privilege and the misogynist culture in a short 1 minute and 49 seconds. Taking the stripped-back folk flare and pairing it with an intense, inflamed punk pace and character, Transgender Dysphoria Blues encourages the kind of change and self-empowerment that we all need, no matter who you are.
Against Me!’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AgainstMe
#4: Brontide – Artery
An album that has given me one of the most emotive responses of the year, Brontide’s Artery exudes class, intelligence, and unbridled positive flare that has you scratching your head at the musical technicality one moment, and grinning like a loon the next. It’s a much more focused effort than Sans Souci as it flows in a much more natural way, with its introspective dips and its elating peaks. ‘Bare My Bones’ provides one of this year’s highlights with dizzying fret work, while ‘Still Life’s’ acoustic touches soothes your soul as album ender ‘Red Gold’ gives the light of a new day full of possibility. This is a display of 3 incredibly talented musicians full of charm, nuance, and beautiful spirit.
Brontide’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Brontidetheband
#3: The Contortionist – Language
Who saw this coming!? Certainly not me. I’ve always liked The Contortionist but this is the record that has made me into a rabid fan. The most melodic thing they’ve ever done, yes, but it has all of the bizarre riffs and dense atmosphere that was apparent on Intrinsic and Exoplanet. ‘Language I: Intuition’ provides the album’s first jaw-dropping moment giving an amazing King Crimson/Marillion impersonation with a delayed guitar hook that gets better with each listen. The record’s central expression of ebb and flow (another astonishing track too!) shows a much more attractive and profound side of the band as each song almost pours itself from the speakers, but the band are still keen to show their teeth with ‘Thrive’ and ‘Integration’. The biggest surprise of the year for me and I couldn’t be happier to have been knocked off my feet by such a mature, bright, and confident record.
The Contortionist’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/thecontortionist
#2: Opeth – Pale Communion
I love Opeth. I should probably get that out of the way before I gush about how much I love this record. While Heritage was a step in the right direction for Mikael and his fellow prognauts, Pale Communion is very much the finished article with all of the sharp riffing and darkness that we have come to expect from the world’s best progressive metal band (not a fact, just one man’s opinion!). One issue with being the world’s best progressive metal band (again, not fact) is that you are expected to do and write certain things, but Mikael is a great paradox of a human being, writing some of the darkest and distressing lyrics of the year without so much as a death growl to be heard anywhere; listen to the heart-wrenching ‘Faith in Others’ and try telling me Mikael has lost his touch. That being said, it’s filled with interesting and catchy riffs like single ‘Cusp of Eternity’ and the blues-infused ‘River’ that provide a suitable bite to the complex splendor that we have come to expect from the band’s back catalogue. A methodical, grandiose affair from one of the best bands to walk this earth, regardless of genre.
Opeth’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Opeth
#1: Gazpacho – Demon
Gazpacho have been my one constant in terms of music this year. I hadn’t heard of them until March of this year when a friend starting raving about a band that were writing dark, challenging progressive rock whilst at the same time carving themselves a nice little niche and almost creating their own genre through a mix of delicate 70s rock, wild concepts, and an eerie way of twisting the mood and atmosphere of the music in one split, unnerving second. Then I heard the new record, and I discovered a cosmic, fragile, and beautiful world that was simultaneously experiencing the warmest joy and the most crushing sadness; and I loved every single minute of it. Also, when the Norwegians want to, they can hammer out riffs with the best of them, exhibiting groove and style on the wonderful ‘I’ve Been Walking’ (Part I) and producing an almost psychotic breakdown in the dusky 20 minute closer ‘Death Room’. The intricate tale of the devil, a manuscript, and the anguished ramblings and etchings of a tortured soul, Demon has given the best musical experience on record for me this year and only confirms why discovering a new band is one of the best feelings you can have.
Gazpacho’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Gazpacho.Official.BandPage
Ryan Neal’s Top Five
#5: Van Canto – Dawn of the Brave
Yes, this is a serious nomination. And what? Come at me, Internet. Van Canto have been diligently slogging away at their rather unique craft of a cappella metal for the best part of a decade now with utter disregard for the naysayers, and their fifth full length album really sees them come into their own. The Germans have a knack for reimagining iconic rock and metal songs in a fun, playful way, and their melodic take on Black Sabbath’s ‘Paranoid’ is nothing short of sheer genius, but Dawn of the Brave stands as a solid power metal album without having to rely on the glories of their predecessors. Put simply, this is just an immensely fun, feel good record and… you know what? I don’t need to say anything more to justify this… it features three grown men pretending to be guitars! You need this album in your life. Rakataka, motherfucker!
Van Canto’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/vancantoband
#4: Behemoth – The Satanist
After the success that was 2009’s monstrous masterpiece Evangelion, who would have predicted that Behemoth would throw us the absolute fucking curveball that is The Satanist? While its predecessor was all about crushing the listener with the kind of weight that would intimidate the very force of gravity itself, The Satanist prefers instead to conjure an overbearingly sinister atmosphere, counting progressive songwriting, a horn section, and a choir among its intimidating arsenal. Quite simply, this just sounds pure fucking evil; dark, malevolent, brooding, and absolutely fantastic, while the album’s swansong, ‘O Father O Satan O Sun!’ marks the band’s career highlight. Come and worship at their darkened shrine.
Behemoth’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/behemoth
#3: Darkest Hour – Darkest Hour
Darkest Hour are one of those bands that can do no wrong in my eyes. They could release an album of reggae style TV ad jingles and I would lap that shit up like Lucky Charms. But even I was a little concerned when I first heard the D.C. quintet’s eighth full length. Trading in a solid portion of their thrashy fret wizardry and frantic vocals for weightier, brooding riffs and (shock, horror) clean singing, it marked a change in style that was foretold by 2011’s The Human Romance. A few listens revealed what I had always suspected; guitarist Mike Schleibaum and singer John Henry are among metal’s strongest songwriting duos and that transcends whatever musical direction they may take. With introspective lyrics and melodies that carry the compositions, Darkest Hour is my ultimate scream-along album of 2014.
Darkest Hour’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DarkestHourDudes
#2: Ne Obliviscaris – Citadel
With Portal of I, Ne Obliviscaris topped my 2012 list, so it was a safe bet that their sophomore release was going to be pretty high on my 2014 list. Citadel is a ponderous tome to say the least, consisting of meandering passages of blistering blast beats and technical, progressive riffs interspersed with weeping violins, and delicate guitars that draw on Spanish and Arabic influences – at one point I thought I was listening to the soundtrack from 1999’s The Mummy. There’s a much stronger sense of ambience on this album, but it’s a testament to Ne Obliviscaris that they can achieve constant progression within a 16-minute song without losing the attention of their listeners. Brilliant.
Ne Obliviscaris’ Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/NeObliviscarisBand
#1: Fallujah – The Flesh Prevails
The Flesh Prevails is one of those rare albums that can be rather neatly summarised by its cover art. A marriage of light and dark, delicacy and belligerence, technicality and simplicity, it provides enough diversity to facilitate constant evolution without everything sounding like a patchwork quilt that could come apart at the seams at any moment. Andrew Baird puts in a spectacular drum performance while the contrast between the soaring guitar melodies and thundering rhythm section creates a dynamic set of atmospherics, all topped off with the use of ethereal female vocals. The Flesh Prevails is nothing less than one of the most ground-breaking and vital technical death metal records to be released in recent years.
Fallujah’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/fallujahofficial
Mike Perry’s Top Five
#5: Martyrdöd – Elddop
Melding pacy, aggressive crust punk/D-Beat with some good old fashioned rock and roll, Martyrdöd’s Elddop sounds like it could be the bastard offspring of Nails and Kvelertak. Admittedly, this is what a large percentage of record label Southern Lord’s output sounds like, but Martyrdöd are a cut above anything else from the label’s roster this year.
The Swedish quartet masterfully juxtapose infectious guitar licks with abrasive and jarring vocals and frenetic, aggressive drumming. They’ll be an acquired taste for some, but if you can get past the screams – which are what I assume will be the sticking point for most people – you’ll definitely be in for a treat. An angry, spiteful bastard of a treat.
Martyrdöd’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/martyrdod
#4: Skambankt – Sirene
Hailing from the same town in Norway as Kvelertak, there’s a great deal of that sextet’s sound present in Skambankt’s. Although, having formed three years before their compatriots, you could probably argue that Skambankt is more likely the influencer, rather than the influenced.
Norwegian vocals? Check. Gloriously infectious riffs? Check. A great rock and roll party vibe? Check. There’s a comparative lack of extremity to Skambankt’s sound when placed next to Kvelertak, but they more than make up for it in the catchy stakes, with their alternative/indie sensibility allowing them to explore more melodic, atmospheric moods and even occasionally branch out into poppier territory.
Skambankt’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/skambankt
#3: Royal Blood – Royal Blood
It’s not often that a Mercury-nominated, chart-topping album flies anywhere near my radar. However, Brighton-based duo Royal Blood have not only grabbed my attention; they’ve also been on almost permanent rotation since the album dropped in September.
Channelling Muse, The White Stripes and Queens of the Stone Age, the band have crafted a catchy-as-hell garage rock record that sounds much, much larger than their limited personnel would suggest. In particular, Mike Kerr’s Matt Bellamy-meets-Jack White vocal lines and simple yet effective lead basslines fill the space left by the absence of a guitarist with ease, with each song proving as infectious as the last.
(As a side note, it’s also great to see Dan Hillier’s artwork adorning the album cover and thus receiving some richly deserved global coverage!)
Royal Blood’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/RoyalBloodUK
#2: Mastodon – Once More ‘Round the Sun
Once More ‘Round the Sun may have faced criticism from some quarters as being too ‘Mastodon-by-numbers’ and a step too far into radio-friendly territory for fans of the band’s much earlier output. But really, following both Crack the Skye and The Hunter, the continued evolution of the Atlanta quartet’s sound shouldn’t really come as a surprise to anyone these days.
Agreed, the happy-go-lucky tracks such as ‘Halloween’ and ‘The Motherload’ would seem a bit out of place on the band’s much sludgier, angrier debut Remission. Also, female backing vocals (as featured on ‘Aunt Lisa’) are apparently too much for some metal nerds to take, judging by some of the negative comments seen online. Nevertheless, the album remains distinctly Mastodon and therefore by extension awesome, and that’s good enough for me.
Mastodon’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Mastodon
#1: Trap Them – Blissfucker
Before you’ve even hit play, the album art (a black and white picture of what appears to be a face being waterboarded while at the same time having its eyes gouged) and the title (Blissfucker) should give you at least an inkling of what’s in store on Trap Them’s latest record.
It’s unrelenting, misanthropic stuff – as with their previous record, Darker Handcraft, Trap Them have taken the gnarliest facets of crust punk, grindcore, D-Beat and Entombed-like Swedish death metal, and fused them to create a glorious cacophony that is, somewhat paradoxically, as catchy as it is brutal. Seriously – in amongst the blast beats, there are riffs on there that you’ll be humming for days.
Trap Them’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TrapThem
Anastasia Psarra’s Top Five
#5: Decapitated – Blood Mantra
The Poles returned with a refreshingly brutal dose of heavy, nasty and raw death so addictive that it should come with a warning! Blood Mantra’s moshing beats, shredding guitar lines and grindy desolation are fueled by Decapitated’s proficient musicianship meeting and even exceeding expectations. With just eight songs on it, it is tremendous how this album retains the band’s core identity while pushing the envelope further by starting slow, building up a head of steam and then ending on a melancholy note. Old school fans might be disappointed as the band continues to steer clear of its tech-death roots but will be compensated with fierce riffs, moody auras and cataclysmic velocity. Well-crafted and simultaneously progressive, Blood Mantra is triumphant.
Decapitated’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/decapitated
#4: Vintersorg – Naturbål
Over the years Swedish music project Vintersorg has covered a wide array of genres, having been labelled everything from folk metal to avant-garde, and now it’s back with Naturbål. With Swedish vocals only, the band’s ninth full length LP combines the best of folk, progressive and black metal worlds. Andreas Hedlund adopts different singing styles, sounding confident and melodic during the clean parts and alternating to fierce and powerful shrieks for the darker parts. Every song in this album has a unique feel, with acoustic passages giving way to blast beats, trem-picking and vibrant guitar work. Naturbål is an extremely compelling album that will satisfy fans of black, power, folk and progressive metal without for a second sounding cluttered. Mixing all these differing sounds and paces would be a difficult task for most, but Vintersorg make it seem too easy.
Vintersorg’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/vintersorganic
#3: Pallbearer – Foundations of Burden
With this precocious outward display of virtuosity, doom metallers Pallbearer live up to their fans’ expectations following the world-wide success of their full length demo Sorrow and Extinction which was released in 2012. The captivating atmosphere created by Foundations of Burden builds upon grandiose chords, cathedral riffs and rarefied clean vocals. Notching in at under 60 minutes, Pallbearer’s tempos and dynamic shifts will rip a hole in what you call reality, allowing you to enter a world constructed from their own realm of emotions. It’s the kind of metal we don’t get to hear all that often, and despite having been compared to the likes of Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden, these guys have created an original and evolving sound balancing melancholy with lighter elements; a soothing yet raw dynamic.
Pallbearer’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pallbearerdoom
#2: Insomnium – Shadows of the Dying Sun
From the opening track ‘The Primeval Dark’, it becomes evident that Shadows of the Dying Sun is a special record, showcasing the band’s honed dynamics and majestic songwriting. Blending keys and killer guitar riffs in the way only these Finns know how to, Insomnium prove yet again that they are able to mix aggression with melancholy, creating a familiar and deeply beautiful melodic death sound that sinks into the soul while also venturing into other genres such as black and ambient metal. Clocking in at over an hour, there is a lot of music to take in, but each composition builds the tension up yet remains simple and fragile, creating a gripping listening experience further enhanced by goose-bump-inducing lyrics. Probably their most flawless piece of work so far.
Insomnium’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/insomniumofficial
#1: Triptykon – Melana Chasmata
The second release from Celtic Frost founder Tom G.Fischer’s latest project Triptykon is a glorious blend of doom, gothic, death and thrash metal with plenty of thick tones and crushingly heavy riffs to chew on. Melana Chasmata provides listeners with a perfect balance between savage guitars and poignant rhythm sections, accompanied as always by Fischer’s agonising grunts. The hatefulness and darkness spewing from this album come naturally, and you will be lost in its distorted melodies before you even realise it.
Triptykon’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/triptykonofficial
Jack Traveller’s Top Five
#5: Thou – Heathen
Opening with the slow burning mystical grooves of the fourteen minute long ‘Free Will’ and closing with the spiteful melancholia of ‘An Ode To Physical Pain’, Heathen is a slow burn of a record. Its carefully crafted dirges demand patience from the listener, and listening to the entire thing is alternately like trekking through burning deserts and dismal swamps. The bleakness isn’t unrelenting however, and the record’s greatest strength is the balance it strikes between thoroughly dire sludge and more psychedelic elements, the disparate parts of the record coming together to form a hypnotic and mesmerising whole. Fantastic stuff.
Thou’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Thou/249015501795190
#4: Corrupt Moral Altar – Mechanical Tides
It is rare that a grindcore album has the scope and vision of Mechanical Tides, and it is rare for a band to make such an album so early in their career. Seamlessly blending diverse musical references, from sludge to hardcore, but never forgetting to infuse them with a violent grindcore sensibility, Corrupt Moral Altar have crafted the year’s most intense, interesting and vital grind release by far. Although none of the record could be described as soft, the inclusion of less outright frantic parts makes the more traditional blast and D-beat led sections hit all the harder. Any fan of the harder side of extreme metal would do well to immerse themselves in the hot, chemical riffage of Mechanical Tides.
Corrupt Moral Altar’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CorruptMoralAltar
#3: Slugdge – Gastronomicon
Sliding viscously in and beating the likes of Behemoth, Grand Magus & Slomatics for a place in my top five comes Gastronomicon, the sophomore effort from Prestonian mollusc worshippers Slugdge. Gastronomicon builds its cyclopean pillars of riff on a foundation of songwriting every bit as good as their first album, but ditches the production issues that dogged Born of Slime for a mix that’s dagger sharp and crystal clear. Drawing deftly from the entire extreme metal spectrum, Gastronomicon is one of the year’s essential releases.
Slugdge’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Slugdge
#2: Agalloch – The Serpent and The Sphere
Building on the success of Marrow of The Spirit, Agalloch’s new record The Serpent and The Sphere is an epic soundscape that conjures ancient forest grottoes dripping with spring rain, pregnant clouds overhead and a chill to the air. This album works best listened to as a whole, and while Agalloch have never been the kind of band who make neatly distinct three-minute pop songs, their use of recurring themes and self-reference is more blatant than ever on this album. If you like your folk metal a little more introspective (and entirely free of accordions and mead!) this is worth checking out. The most evocative album I’ve heard since Wolves In The Throne Room’s Celestial Lineage.
Agalloch’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AgallochOfficial
#1: Edguy – Space Police
I’ve always liked the odd Edguy track, but their new record is the first one I’ve been able to get on board with from start to finish – and it’s a corker. Walking a tightrope between glam rock swagger and power metal flourish, it’s packed with tales of swashbuckling space pirates, man-eating witches and a lengthy ode to England and its heritage; Indian food, Def Leppard and Steve Harris. Great fun for power metal fans and hard rockers alike.
Edguy’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/edguy
Philip Whitehouse’s Top Five
#5: Ageless Oblivion – Penthos
I must say, I was initially pretty surprised that Penthos – the second album by UK progressive deathsters Ageless Oblivion – didn’t seem to be mentioned in any of the best of 2014 lists published by other metal sites. That was until I considered the possibility that most folks who had actually given the album a listen had in fact been shattered into their component atoms by the sheer destructive force of Penthos‘ apocalyptic clamour, and were thus unable to share their approval. With Penthos, Ageless Oblivion make death metal feel not just threatening, but downright existentially terrifying – the soundtrack to existence itself being rent asunder, the sound of the burning edges of reality gradually closing in on the tiny scrap of existence that the listener currently occupies. Finger-breaking technicality, chasm-opening groove and dread-laced atmosphere combine to make Penthos a knuckle-whiteningly intense listen, and a void I’ve chosen to stare into repeatedly since its release.
Ageless Oblivion’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/agelessoblivion
#4: Panopticon – Roads to the North
Neither black metal nor folk metal tend to be amongst my most preferred musical genres, so I was taken aback by how strongly I responded to multi-instrumentalist Austin Lunn’s blending of bluegrass, folk and good ol’ fashioned trem/blast black metal. The sheer wealth and scope of Lunn’s instrumental talent was the first thing to hook me in – seriously, the raucousness and exuberance of the drumming alone on this album is pulse-quickening – but by the time I found myself foot-stampin’ on the bus to the joyous bluegrass/hill-folk acoustic jamboree ‘The Long Road, I. One Last Fire’, or mournfully droning along to the weary, melancholy nostalgia of ‘Norwegian Nights’, I knew I’d been sucked in. The range of emotional expression achieved through Roads to the North would be a staggering achievement in and of itself, but that coupled with the assuredness of Lunn’s cross-pollenation of genres makes the album a truly wondrous one.
Panopticon’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TheTruePanopticon
#3: Triptykon – Melana Chasmata
The latest audial exorcism by the perennially-tortured Thomas Gabriel Fischer makes for a perfect soundtrack when one is feeling embattled and besieged – something I particularly came to appreciate towards the end of 2014. Whatever particular flavour of negative emotion you might be feeling at any given time, chances are Melana Chasmata will touch upon it at some point – blind rage, soul-hollowing despair, fearful hesitance, all are conjured through Fischer’s grunting, moaning, roaring vocals and the droning buzz of his inimitable guitar tone. Even the fleeting, joyful spark of recognition that flickers upon hearing one of his trademark “Ugh”s is quickly extinguished by the encroaching darkness that seems to close in on the listener gradually throughout Melana Chasmata‘s 67-minute running time. Certainly not easy listening, then – but when you feel like the bottom’s dropped out of your world, it’s bleakly comforting to know that Fischer knows your pain, and has probably penned a riff that embodies it.
Triptykon’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/triptykonofficial
#2: Godflesh – A World Lit Only By Fire
Thirteen years ago, I got sent a copy of Godflesh‘s Hymns to review for the site I was writing for at the time. The bleak, single-minded, sheet-metal clangour of the album immediately made me curse myself for being so late to the party. I cursed myself even more when they broke up shortly after. Thankfully, after indulging his melodic/shoegaze sensibilities with the somehow equally-heavy Jesu, Godflesh mastermind Justin Broadrick returned to his twisted, biomechanical creation, and the comeback album retains the unpitying sense of inevitability of earlier Godflesh works. The rusted, metallic grinding of the guitars, the piston-firing drive of the drum machine and the pulsing rattle of J.C. Green’s bass combine once more to conjure an atmosphere of industrialised hopelessness, with Broadrick’s strangled roaring emanating from within it all, a lone human voice trapped between the teeth of the cogs in the machine.
Justin K. Broadrick’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Justin-K-Broadrick/118373041529126
#1: Ne Obliviscaris – Citadel
Like Ryan Neal, I too fell head-over-heels for Australian progressive/death/black/thrash/jazz act Ne Obliviscaris‘ 2012 debut album Portal of I, so I was positively champing at the bit to get hold of this one. The band did not disappoint. Citadel refines the template that Ne Obliviscaris defined on Portal of I, nipping and tucking the edges of their sound whilst retaining the unique personality that made them stand out initially. Deathly growls and blackened shrieks still trade off with polished-glass-smooth clean vocals (though the cleans are a touch less prevalent and a tiny bit less nasal this time out), blasting drums and technical, bloodied-hook-laden guitars still receive accompaniment from violin parts, and the songs still run the gamut from atmospheric progressiveness to neck-breaking black metal via deathlier aggression and thrashy, rhythmic riff-hammerings (though somehow, the compositions are more direct this time round, whilst still taking in a number of stops along the way). Every fresh listen to Citadel has revealed a new favourite riff, and I doubt the album will cease giving up the goods any time soon. Fantastic stuff.
Ne Obliviscaris’ Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/NeObliviscarisBand