Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Highlights of 2014

2014 was a big triumph for metal and heavy music. Tons of quality releases from both well-known and upcoming, obscure acts. I haven't heard any record this year which can be deemed as disappointing but there are some slight let-downs like Opeth's Pale Communion, Agalloch's The Serpent & the Sphere and Dread Sovereign's All Hell's Martyrs. First of all, I wasn't expecting a record like My Arms, Your Hearse or Blackwater Park. Opeth have already broke new ground with those records and that's past but I was expecting a logical step-up from the humdrum Heritage. While Pale Communion (Review) is indeed a step-up from its predecessor it doesn't hold up with repeated listens and ultimately ends up being the second draft of Opeth's homage to 70's prog/'dad' rock. Secondly, Agalloch's fifth full-length is a pretty decent record but overall a bit aimless and incoherent especially when compared to the impeccable brilliance of their first three records. Now, Primordial have released yet another spectacular album which is in my top 10 and I'll come back to it later but I was expecting the same with Nemtheanga fronted doom-mongers' debut full-length. Dread Sovereign's All Hell's Martyrs is expansive and has a quite individual bass-laden wall-of-sound approach but at the same time I find a bit overlong and tedious due to the lack of much special hooks or improvisations. Also, the debut from Swedish stoner/doom outfits Monolord, UK caveman battle doomsters Conan's sophomore Blood Eagle and Electric Wizard's Time to Die (the opener "Incense for the Damned" being the only standout) drags a lot without leaving much of an impact. Down-tuned heavy guitar tone alone can't save the day. You have to utilize it properly. Also, the new Blut Aus Nord didn't do that much for me. It seems kinda pale in comparison to the elegance of their previous two offerings in Memoria Vetusta saga. The extremely lo-fi production bothers me the most. The riffs are buried in the mix neither the atmospherics come off as striking.

Now let's get into the action. I don't like much wankery or those sort of reverse-counts so yea, my list is straightforward:

Top 25:

#1. Melvins - Hold It In (Ipecac): Hold It In is barrels of fun. It's a total package. It offers the iconic sludge of the Melvins as well as their ever-present experimental traits to the full review                                     

#2. Hail Spirit Noir - Oi Magoi (Code666): This is even better than Pneuma which was a fantastic debut itself. It seems Hail Spirit Noir have mastered their own unique synthesis of bizarre psychedelia and black metal. "Satan Is Time" is the single most hypnotic song I've heard this year.

#3. Miasmal - Cursed Redeemer (Century Media): This is a natural continuation of Miasmal's chunky Swedeath riffage meets crusty d-beat badassery. There are even some ultra heavy doom-laden riffs here and there ("Whisky Train", "Frozen in time") much like their previous offerings like "Mists" and "Kallocain". As well as some tasty, blistering leads. I already consider Miasmal as the death metal equivalent of Orange Goblin. Ye get your booze on and "get on the whisky train". The frontman Pontus is also a member of blackened crust punk act Martyrdöd who have released a great album this year as well but just missed out my top 25.

#4. Cross Vault - Spectres of Revocable Loss (Eyes Like Snow): Doom album of the year for me, hands down. Slow and ponderous to slightly mid-paced doom with quality spellbinding riffage and an exceptional melodic nature for instance "A Query in Chains" which is already a stone-cold classic in my book. The way they execute melodic leads interlaced with acoustic passages on "Void of Old, Void to Come" and "Rails Departing" is nothing short of full review

#5. Eyehategod - Eyehategod (Housecore Records): How long I've been craving for some whiskey soaked, fat, bluesy sludge-punk goodness from NOLA's finest and boy did they deliver! I was already quite satisfied with their 2012 single "New Orleans Is the New Vietnam" and their eponymous fifth album just re-instated my satisfaction. Obey the riff. Bow to the Bower Power!

#6. Primordial - Where Greater Men Have Fallen (Metal Blade): The heathen kings of Ireland extend their glorious catalogue with yet another majestic release. From the introspective blackened gloom of "Babel's Tower" to the twisted, sinister sounding "The Alchemist's Head" this is indeed full review 
Interview with Nemtheanga

#7. Slomatics - Estron (Head of Crom Records): Whoa! Back to back Irish brilliance! What I've always liked about Slomatics is that they don't show-off their mammoth sized guitar tone just for the sake of it (like aforementioned Conan, Monolord and Electric Wizard's new output). They can be really dynamic, groovy and cohesive employing space rock textures with well-crafted stoner/doom riffs and even a bit of hypnotizing synthesizer ("Tunnel Dragger", "And Yet It Moves") for good measure.

#8. Cauldron Black Ram - Stalagmire (20 Buck Spin): Boy, these Aussie pirates vanquish everything in ther path with the sheer force of their early Celtic Frost inspired riff-o-rama. Stalagmire oozes with Cauldron Black Ram's evil pirate metal insanity be it the sludgy death/thrash of the opener "Fork Through Pitch", filthy blackened fury of "Bats" or the brooding ritualistic vibe of "Speliogenesis".

#9. Howls of Ebb - Vigils of the 3rd Eye (I, Voidhanger Records): I've no idea what these guys smoked before recording this whacked out amalgamation of avant-noise/drone/black/death metal I'm just completely flabbergasted by its awesomeness. Just listen to "Of Heel, Cyst and Lung" or the title track and tell me if you've heard something as deranged and radical before. It's like if the Melvins, Hellhammer and Autopsy had an orgy and suddenly they discover a bastard child rocking out in its own.

#10. Mournful Congregation - Concrescence of the Sophia (20 Buck Spin): Aussie metal veteran Damon Good practically owned 2014 with such quality releases from Cauldron Black Ram, StarGazer (coming back to it later) and most importantly his primary project Mournful Congregation. Yes, it's an EP but it's enough to get your extreme/funeral doom fix of the year. Be it the colossal title track or the soul aching dirge of "Silence of the Passed" it's just a foreshadowing of all the crestfallen funerals to come.

#11. Lantlôs - Melting Sun (Prophecy Productions): This is quite a radical stylistic shift by Lantlôs. Since Neige left to focus on his primary project Alcest, Herbst decided to shed the early post-punk meets shoegazing black metal style and introduced a multi-layered blend of dreamy space rock and psychedelic sludge/post-metal which slightly reminded me of the unsung Illinois space rock heroes Hum. Listen with caution: "Azure Chimes" might completely melt the tough guy metalhead in you and might take your inner child to a journey "into sun colored haze".

#12. Orange Goblin - Back from the Abyss (Candlelight Records): Consistency. The word is totally synonymous with Orange Goblin. Just put on this record, open a bottle of Dewar's and you're all set for a vintage heavy metal ride ranging from nods to Sabbath (aptly titled "Sabbath Hex"), Motörhead ("The Devil's Whip"), Iron Maiden (the epic-stoner crunch of "Mythical Knives") to the gigantic hooks of "Heavy Lies the Crown" and "The Abyss" this is pure OG goodness.

#13. Pallbearer - Foundations of Burden (Profound Lore Records): "Hipster doom" or whatever may the naysayers call them I love Pallbearer because they remind me of some of my favourite doom acts who are no longer active. Such as the criminally overlooked Irish melodic doom trio Arcane Sun and UK's Warning. To be honest, I do find the hype surrounding them a bit obnoxious at times. But it's ok for me if quality acts like Pallbearer gets attention instead of some shitty Pantera clone like Lamb of God. Foundations of Burden has all the characteristics of Sorrow and Extinction and a few fresh stylistic approaches to expand their sound into a new full review

#14. Autopsy - Tourniquets, Hacksaws and Graves (Peaceville Records): I like each and every sludgy, doomy death-crawl by Autopsy more or less and this one is no exception. You got your insanity filled massive death/doom riff-o-rama such as "King of Flesh Ripped", "The Howling Dead" and "Burial" as well as some more morbid atmospheric side of things like the title track and "Deep Crimson Dreaming".

#15. Blood Farmers - Headless Eyes (Resurrection Productions): Headless Eyes is a triumphant return by cult NY gore-doomsters and it's every bit of a worthy successor of their 1995 self-titled masterpiece. It's filled with trademark Szulkin riffs, creepy somewhat uplifting psychedelic leads and 70's horror movie inspired atmosphere especially what Blood Farmers and Szulkin are known full review

#16. Colour Haze - To the Highest Gods We Know (Elektrohasch Schallplatten): One of the latest releases. It hasn't been a month yet since its release I guess. Anyway, thanks to Colour Haze for reminding me of a kaleidoscopic summer afternoon in the midst of wintry chills.

#17. Horrendous - Ecdysis (Dark Descent Records): Regardless of the attention this sophomore effort by the East Coast death metal trio received there's no denying the brilliance of this record. Razor-sharp riffs, traditional metal inspired melodic leads à la Swedeath giants Dismember (which are even more pronounced this time than their debut, just listen to the orgasmic leads featured in "Weeping Relic" and the interlude "When the Walls Fell") and even recalls some atmospheric death/doom tinges of Gorement ("Nepenthe").   

#18. Triptykon - Melana Chasmata (Century Media): I expected this to be in my top 5 as it was the case with both the debut and Celtic Frost's Monotheist but it turned out slightly weak mostly due to the dragging second half which I find not as engaging as the devastating first four tracks except maybe for the despondent brooding doom of "In the Sleep of Death". But it's still a solid record that oozes with Tom G. Warrior's bleak visions.

#19. StarGazer - A Merging to the Boundless (NWN! Prod): Damon Good strikes again! Well, there's nothing quite like StarGazer's cosmic extreme metal. Possibly the most intriguing Aussie progressive/experimental metal band I've heard since their fellow countrymen Alchemist and as Alchemist are no longer around StarGazer took over the department of avant-garde extreme metal. And don't think of frivolous wankery like Ne Obliviscaris when you hear the term 'progressive'. This is truly progressive in terms of improvisations be it astral arpeggios ("An Earth Rides Its Endless Carousel"), twisted riffstorm ("Ride the Everglade of Reogniroro") or jarring basslines (title track) without sacrificing the notion of cohesive songwriting.

#20. Thou - Heathen (Gilead Media): Another record that gained a lot of attention this year and rightfully so. Think of the misanthropic extreme doom of Khanate (even Bryan Funck's blackened shrieks are quite similar to of Alan Dubin's), throw in some narcotized clean guitars and a truckload of cathartic riffage and you've got Thou. In fact, Thou even grooves with a sense of utmost dejection, like a wretched soul writhing in indescribable pain ("Into the Marshlands").

#21. Kriegsmaschine - Enemy of Man (No Solace): It's been a great year for all the Deathspell Omega devotees. While DsO haven't come up with any new stuff plenty of quality releases by upcoming, obscure and semi-obscure acts have directly or indirectly paid homage to the dissonant art of blasphemy like the aforementioned Howls of Ebb record, Phobocosm's Deprived (coming back to it in a bit) or this cavernous sophomore effort by the Polish orthodox black metal act. Kriegsmaschine is basically a more aggressive counterpart of Mgła (featuring the same frontman and drummer) but this time the aggression seems a bit controlled for instance, listen to "Lies of the Fathers" or the title track which are as much ominous in character as tracks like "Through the Eyes of the Blind" and "Nihilation" from their debut but at the same time controlled rage makes the atmosphere even more claustrophobic.

#22. The Flight of Sleipnir - V. (Napalm Records): Whoa! that artwork seems like a more colourful representation of that Mournful Congregation EP. Well, that's because TFoS' David Csicsely has designed them both you twat! Well, jokes aside, like the aforementioned Triptykon record I expected this one to be much higher in the list as well because its predecessor Saga was in my top 10 of 2013 and by now it might have snuck past my top 5. The vocals seem a bit unbalanced compared to Saga in this record. The foresty black metal shrieks dominate most of the compositions. But I'm a sucker for exquisite clean vocal harmonies (as a huge Alice in Chains fan) and that's the reason why fell in love with TFoS in the first place ("Birchfire", "Of Words and Ravens", "Within the Fires of Muspell" or the impeccable "Harrowing Desperation" from the aforementioned Saga). Nevertheless, this record has enough defining traits of TFoS to be one of my favourites of this year like the Floydian viking/doom of "Sidereal Course" and "Gullveig" or the hooky flair of the epic closure "Beacon in Black Horizon".

#23. Necros Christos - Nine Graves (Sepulchral Voice Records): Another EP makes it to my list. Why not? Both the new compositions ("Black Bone Crucifix" and the title track) are flat out awesome. Filled with bone-crushing riffs ranging from blackened death gallops to ultra-heavy doom-laden passages. And nothing to dislike about the re-recorded scorchers "Va Koram Do Rex Satan" (re-recorded from Triune Impurity Rites) and "Baptized by the Black Urine of the Deceased" (from the 2006 split album with Teitanblood). About the "Temple" and "Gate" interludes they are nothing but eargasm. Seriously, who doesn't love audible porn?

#24. Phobocosm - Deprived (Dark Descent Records): Another fantastic debut. Phobocosm's brand of dark death metal isn't something radically original but still their sound has enough individual characteristics to draw the attention of both the purists and open minded fans of metal and extreme music. The album fluctuates between Immolation inspired apocalyptic atmosphere with heaving chromatic riffs accompanied by traditional death growls, blast-beats and Incantation influenced dirgy inclinations and even rings in a Deathspell Omega tinged blackened undertone which is present full review 

#25. Fu Manchu - Gigantoid (At the Dojo Records): Fu Manchu returns with their fuzzalicious SoCal desert/stoner rock. From the foot-stomping hooks of the opener "Dimension Shifter" to the Sabbathian grooves of "Radio Source Sagittarius" to the gargantuan jam of "Evolution Machine" you can definitely tell it's Fu Manchu back in business.

Rest of the list:

26. Godflesh - A World Lit Only by Fire
27. Abigor - Leytmotif Luzifer
28. Mortuary Drape - Spiritual Independence
29. Cormorant - Earth Diver
30. Incantation - Dirges of Elysium
31. Mastodon - Once More 'Round The Sun
32. Goatwhore - Constricting Rage of the Merciless
33. Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell - Check 'em Before You Wreck 'em
34. Teitanblood - Death
35. Wo Fat - The Conjuring
36. King Buzzo - This Machine Kills Artists
37. Coffinworm - IV.I.VIII
38. The Graviators - Motherload
39. Sigiriya - Darkness Died Today
40. Sólstafir - Ótta
41. Down - Down IV (Part II)
42. Martyrdöd - Elddop
43. Caskets Open - To Serve the Collapse (Review)
44. Grand Magus - Triumph and Power
45. KYPCK - Имена на стене (Names on the Wall)
46. Thantifaxath - Sacred White Noise
47. Wovenhand - Refractory Obdurate
48. The Wounded Kings - Consolamentum
49. Vallenfyre - Splinters
50. Novembers Doom - Bled White
51. Crowbar - Symmetry in Black
52. Swallowed - Lunarterial
53. Planet of Zeus - Vigilante
54. Slugdge - Gastronomicon
55. Serpent Venom - Of Things Seen and Unseen
56. Swans - To Be Kind
57. Coltsblood - Into the Unfathomable Abyss
58. Inconcessus Lux Lucis - Disintegration: Psalms of Veneration for the Nefarious Elite+Crux Lupus Corona EP (Review)
59. Horn of the Rhino - Summoning Deliverance
60. YOB - Clearing the Path to Ascend
61. Morbus Chron - Sweven
62. Bölzer - Soma
63. Accept - Blind Rage
64. The House of Capricorn - Morning Star Rise
65. Winterfylleth - The Divination of Antiquity
66. Shroud of the Heretic - Revelations in Alchemy
67. Rival Sons - Great Western Valkyrie
68. Craang - To the Estimated Size of the Universe

Albums that I've yet to check out as a whole and will eventually:

Judas Priest - Redeemer of Souls
Overkill - White Devil Armory
Dead Congregation - Promulgation of the Fall
Current 93 - I Am the Last of All the Field That Fell: A Channel
Leonard Cohen - Popular Problems
Slough Feg - Digital Resistance
The Smashing Pumpkins - Monuments to an Elegy
Earth - Primitive and Deadly
Mark Lanegan - Phantom Radio
While Heaven Wept- Suspended at Aphelion
Obituary - Inked in Blood
Exodus - Blood In Blood Out


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