By Andrew Bansal
The year of 2014 presented a vast amount of great new music across all styles and sub-genres of heavy music, and writing this article was extremely hard as a result. But without further ado, here are my picks for the 20 best albums of the year:
20. Obliterations – Poison Everything: Comprising members of Saviours, Night Horse, Black Mountain, Bluebird and Pink Mountaintops, metal/hardcore quartet Obliterations formed in Los Angeles in late 2012 and have been propelling forth with the combined crushing force of those bands put together. Following two EP releases and a slew of devastating live performances, Obliterations signed to Southern Lord Recordings and unleashed their debut full-length ‘Poison Everything’ this year. The 30-minute album vindicates its title and undoubtedly is one of the most unabated, intense exhibitions of hardcore, punk, metal and power violence the year of 2014 has witnessed.
19. Godflesh – A World Lit Only By Fire: After a long period of inactivity, English industrial metal outfit Godflesh reunited in 2010 and amidst eagerly anticipated and well-attended live gigs worldwide, began working on new music. Through ‘A World Lit Only By Fire’, Godflesh’s first full-length studio album of original material in 13 years, vocalist, guitarist, producer and creative mastermind Justin Broadrick delivers a modern-day masterpiece that deems itself worth the wait for fans of the band and the genre itself. The so-called ‘industrial metal’ of today is contaminated by too many external elements and influences, but Broadrick succeeds in resurrecting its old-school style with an album that exudes the spirit of early Godflesh work and could be best described as a powerfully bleak, hypnotic hour of sonic minimalism.
18. Ancient VVisdom – Sacrificial: Originally formed in Austin, Texas, occult death rock band Ancient VVisdom recently relocated back to frontman Nathan Opposition’s native Cleveland, Ohio. Building upon their unique style of musicianship which was displayed in plenty on their first two albums ‘A Godlike Inferno’ and ‘Deathlike’, Ancient VVisdom’s newest effort ‘Sacrificial’ via Magic Bullet Records takes them to the next level. All elements of their sound have clearly undergone positive progress in the past year or two, as is evident from the mesmerizing quality of the acoustic guitars, the instant-impact heaviness of the electric guitar segments, and most of all, the beauty of Opposition’s clean vocals. But the mastery of the manner in which the electric and acoustic guitars blend in with each other is what sets it apart from the rest and makes it a hugely worthwhile listen.
17. Lazer/Wülf – The Beast Of Left And Right: Based out of Athens/Atlanta, Georgia, Lazer/Wülf have been gaining considerable traction in the modern prog metal world with their first two EPs released independently over the course of their 8-year career. But this year, all the pieces of their creative musical puzzle came together to form their full-length debut ‘The Beast Of Left And Right’. This Retro Futurist Records release boasts of stunning progressive musicianship which remains instrumental for its vast majority and hence lets the listener soak in every ounce of the 50-minute effort. This style of music does not know any boundaries but even though Lazer/Wülf capture elements of sludge, jazz, funk atop their prog metal nucleus, the album does not deviate far from its path at any moment, and stays appreciably heavy throughout. Lazer/Wülf succeed in treating listeners with spellbinding sonic landscapes galore.
16. Philm – Fire From The Evening Sun: Dave Lombardo’s avant-garde project Philm took several steps forward from their debut effort ‘Harmonic’ and came up with a harder-hitting, much more concise set of tunes for their latest album ‘Fire From The Evening Sun’, and equally importantly, this one comes with higher production values that enable the trio to present their on-stage insanity and mutual chemistry. Stylistically, Philm is still hard to describe and pinpoint to a specific genre or sub-genre, and still is definitely an acquired taste, specially in the metal world. But, Philm’s newest effort is undeniably excellent, appeals more to metalheads than its predecessor, and firmly puts the band in the metal bracket.
15. Eyehategod – Eyehategod:
In the making for what seemed like an eternity, New Orleans sludge legends’ fifth and aptly self-titled full-length studio effort finally saw the light of day this year via Housecore Records. All drum tracks on it were recorded by the recently deceased Joe LaCaze and the overall music on the album serves as a fitting tribute to the memory of the drummer, as it’s quintessentially EHG in every sense of the term. The band’s first new album in fourteen years, a period that brought much upheaval and turmoil within the EHG unit, this is most certainly the record all fans been waiting for. These eleven tracks present the band at their heaviest, pissed-off best, and leaves listeners in a state of sludge bliss.
14. Witch Mountain – Mobile Of Angels: Even before releasing their fourth full-length album ‘Mobile Of Angels’, longstanding Portland, Oregon doom metal band Witch Mountain had already announced that the album and its accompanying tour would be vocalist Uta Plotkin’s last involvement with the band. One couldn’t have possibly imagined a better swansong for the amicably departing Plotkin, as she decorates the band’s newest release with unparalleled vocal delivery, perfectly complementing the immaculate instrumental layers put forth by her band mates. One of the most soul-shattering musical offerings of the year, beyond any doubt.
13. Earth – Primitive And Deadly: Seattle drone doom pioneers have been in existence for almost 25 years now, Earth have mastered the art of minimizing the number of notes used in creating music but maximizing every note’s longevity and impact in an overwhelmingly mind-boggling manner. Guitarist Dylan Carlson and drummer Adrienne Davies, along with the able support of several other musicians, execute this skill with unmatched precision, and this quality of Earth is evident more than ever before on their tenth studio effort ‘Primitive And Deadly’. The inclusion of vocals on some of the tracks breaks new ground in comparison to previous Earth efforts, and all guest contributors enhance the album further, rendering it one of the richest musical creations of the year.
12. Revocation – Deathless:
Modern-day technical/progressive thrash metal stalwarts, Boston MA’s Revocation embarked upon a new chapter in their career this year by signing to Metal Blade Records. Their fifth studio album ‘Deathless’ marked their debut on the label, an extremely impressive one at that. Moving forward from the musical progress made on each of the previous four records, Revocation infused yet more dimensions into their songwriting and the result is an album that not only retains the in-your-face shredtastic death thrash that garnered them their initial fan base, but also ventures into newer pastures as Revocation show they’re not afraid to slow down and let the music breathe. Undoubtedly on a journey towards greatness, Revocation deliver on all fronts with ‘Deathless’ and expand their horizons while doing so.
11. Kobra And The Lotus – High Priestess: All-conquering Canadian force Kobra And The Lotus turned heads and grabbed the metal world’s attention with their sophomore self-titled effort and a string of incredible live performances, and the onus was on them to prove that it wasn’t a one-off or a flash in the pan. Sure enough, the 2014 release ‘High Priestess’ builds upon the foundations laid down in years past, and comes across as an even stronger effort by frontwoman Kobra Paige and her cohorts. Do not be fooled by the word ‘frontwoman’, for this is by no means your run-of-the-mill generic female-fronted band, and fans of straightforward heavy metal would be well served to bask in the glory of Kobra And The Lotus.
10. Tombs – Savage Gold: Brooklyn, New York-based Tombs released their third studio album ‘Savage Gold’ this year via Relapse Records, easily their most ‘metal’ effort till date, transforming the band completely from the experimental, post-metal approach they adopted on the first two records. The group channels all their creative demons to come up with one of the most ominous and compelling extreme metal compositions of the year, boasting tastefully progressive black metal tendencies, almost in an Enslaved-like manner. This remarkable Tombs effort is indeed savage gold from beginning to end, and should serve as a turning point in the band’s career.
9. Yob – Clearing The Path To Ascend: Throughout their nearly two-decade long career thus far, Eugene, Oregon doom veterans Yob have taken every step with much deliberation and purpose, as is clear from the quality they’ve delivered album after album. But, their seventh studio effort ‘Clearing The Path To Ascend’ might well be the pinnacle of all their achievements. Guitarist, vocalist and principal songwriter Mike Scheidt has succeeded in unearthing his finest work, the four-track, hour-long album showcasing the fullest extent of his creativity as riffs and patterns are allowed to be played out till their last breath. Yob’s newest release treats fans of the heavy with an incredible journey of beautifully depressing and crushingly powerful music.
8. Grand Magus – Triumph And Power: Swedish trio Grand Magus have been consistently propagating the old-school metal spirit since 1996, and this year they came out with yet another thoroughly enjoyable set of tunes comprising their seventh studio album ‘Triumph And Power’. Frontman JB Christofferson’s epic yet low-pitched vocal style separates Grand Magus from most other bands in the sub-genre, and his vocals are present in all their glory on this new album, lending tremendous impetus to the righteously metal lyrical themes of triumph, power, steel, war, swords and hammers. ‘Triumph And Power’ is by all means a great salute to quintessential heavy metal.
7. The Skull – For Those Which Are Asleep: A musical collaboration featuring the reunion of three former members of Chicago doom metal legends Trouble, namely Eric Wagner (vocals), Ron Holzner (bass) and Jeff “Oly” Olson (drums), The Skull formed in 2011, made a few live appearances to overwhelmingly positive responses everywhere, and set their sights on new material of their own. Their debut album ‘For Those Which Are Asleep’ came out this year via Tee Pee Records, and not only meets but exceeds the expectations of anyone and every one familiar with Trouble’s past work. All members of the band are at the peak of their powers on this recording, and the production does complete justice to the musicianship. This album by The Skull is more Trouble than Trouble, and is definitive of the doom metal genre as much as anything ever has been
6. Pallbearer – Foundations Of Burden: Putting their hometown of Little Rock, Arkansas on the global metal map since 2008, Pallbearer have been rising steadily as an entity in the world of doom. But 2014 has clearly witnessed their breakthrough moment as they’ve outdone their past efforts, and that of most other bands this year with their sophomore album ‘Foundations Of Burden’. The exemplary guitar tone is the album’s most standout feature, and all other aspects of the musicianship are built beautifully around it. With Billy Anderson at the helm as producer, Pallbearer have succeeded in delivering an album that’s one for the ages.
5. Dawnbringer – Night Of The Hammer: Chicago-based Dawnbringer is the brainchild of Chris Black, arguably one of the best songwriters of our generation. Following the tremendously uplifting 2012 album ‘Into The Lair Of The Sun God’, Black delved into a greater range of moods and musical elements to create the band’s sixth full-length ‘Night Of The Hammer’. It’s a decidedly darker album with certain songs exhibiting straight-up doom and black metal, but is still very much a traditional metal at heart, and its seamless flow through powerful clean vocals and pristine guitar work is the hallmark of a modern classic.
4. Wolf – Devil Seed: Swedish cult classic metal heroes Wolf came out with their seventh studio full-length ‘Devil Seed’ via Century Media this year, an album that exudes sheer class and outshines most other things released this year. Journeying through dark, heavy patterns and punctuated by excellent vocal and instrumental output from all members involved, ‘Devil Seed’ is Wolf’s finest hour and contains all the evidences that point to the undeniable fact that Wolf should enjoy a much bigger fan-following than they currently do. The album boasts of some of the catchiest, most instant-impact tunes anyone has put not only this year but in a long time, and is an absolute must-have any heavy metal fan.
3. Goatwhore – Constricting Rage Of The Merciless: New Orleans extreme metal purveyors Goatwhore have successfully gone about their mission of converting masses into devouts slowly and steadily over their 17-year career. In 2014, their sixth studio album ‘Constricting Rage Of The Merciless’ hit the world of metal with the crushing force of a ten ton hammer and leveled everything in its path. Darker and more menacing than ever before, this Goatwhore album also explores the old-school black ‘n roll that all members of the band grew up adoring, as evident on songs such as ‘Baring Teeth For Revolt’ and ‘FBS’. With this album, Goatwhore have gone on to prove that extreme metal is far more interesting when combined with thrash and rock ‘n roll elements, and unsurprisingly, ‘Constricting Rage … ‘ triumphs as the best extreme metal album of the year.
2. Accept – Blind Rage: Continuing from where they left off with their previous two albums ‘Stalingrad’ and ‘Blood Of The Nations’, German old-school metal legends Accept solidified their 2010 rebirth into a unanimously respectable second chapter of their career with the new music they put forth in their 2014 effort ‘Blind Rage’. Accept’s third Mark Tornillo-fronted album and fourteenth overall, this one retains the qualities that garnered this version of Accept worldwide approval amongst fans old and new over the past four years, and as Tornillo continues to express himself in greater capacities, Wolf Hoffmann’s guitar work hits new peaks on this album and is well supported by partner-in-crime Herman Frank as the two combine for some epic harmonies and trade-offs. Besides, the rhythm section of Peter Baltes and Stefan Schwarzmann is stronger than ever, and overall, ‘Blind Rage’ is nothing short of heavy metal perfection.
1. Riot V – Unleash The Fire: Very few bands, if that, would dare to keep going after the last remaining original member is no longer part of the group. But, New York heavy metal veterans Riot not only did it, but maintained and enhanced a long, rich legacy that was very much at stake. Respectfully renaming themselves to ‘Riot V’, the band re-launched with a new lineup and released ‘Unleash The Fire’ earlier this year. Brand new members Todd Michael Hall on vocals and Nick Lee on guitar successfully pull off the unthinkable, and live up to the efforts of any and all past Riot members whose shoes they’ve been tasked to fill. The odds were stacked heavily against this incarnation of the band, but they’ve emerged triumphant with an album that conquers all as far as the year of 2014 is concerned. Every single item in this 12-track offering is worth its weight in gold, and songs like ‘Land Of The Rising Sun’ and ‘Fight, Fight, Fight’ are the catchiest musical creations of the year, each worthy of a hundred repeated listens at a time. Extreme and doom metal has certainly dominated music in 2014, but fans of traditional/power metal can rejoice, because Riot V rules all.