Kevin’s favourite records of 2014
It’s that time again, is it? Time to decide what I truly liked and disliked from this year? My favourite time part about being a writer for an online metal publication!
I didn’t listen to as much this year as I did last year, partially because I feel like simply trying to get everything is a fruitless endeavour and partially because I would rather listen to things I like more. Still, I probably managed to get in about 100 albums that came out in the glorious year of 2014, which means I have opinions on what was best and what was worst. Also, if you’ll recall last year, I split my list into genres. I’m not doing that again. I was unsatisfied with how that turned out, so I just have a standard list this time around.
Before we get to the main list, however, here’s a few snacks to whet your appetite.
I wonder how much hate I’m going to get for this? When an album carries as much hype as this one did, it is pretty hard for it not to fall a little bit short of all those expectations. However, the sequel to the critically acclaimed Ziltoid the Omniscient fell far shorter than I ever thought possible. Both discs are shot through with filler tracks and utterly self-indulgent atmospheric wanking from Devin. The DTP album, Sky Blue, has a few good ideas, but never strings enough together to get off the ground and always manages to torpedo its own momentum with 9 minutes of nothing happening.
Dark Matter, the Ziltoid album proper, fares slightly better, but sabotages itself by using narration to essentially tell the story rather than let the music do it. And again, there are very few memorable and catchy ideas here. Taken together it becomes clear that Devin, known for consistent output, has missed the mark in a devastating manner. He’s a very talented composer, and for him to wiff this hard is unsettling.
Most Surprisingly Good
Job For A Cowboy
I remember the days when this band was a deathcore band. Certainly, they grew out of that into legitimate death metal fairly rapidly, but for a while this was the band to hate. Their later death metal was not bad but I also still didn’t find much to like in it.
Until Sun Eater came out. They are now a band that has completely outgrown their roots. Sun Eater is a full-on, no-nonsense proggy tech death album; something I never would have seen coming from Job For a Cowboy.
The bass lines power through the mix of guitars sounding like something Atheist would have had on their first few records. It isn’t the best tech-death record I have heard this year – that honour goes to either Hannes Grossman or Beyond Creation, – but Job For A Cowboy are absolutely this year’s biggest surprise.
Next are some honourable mentions, because I refuse to entirely bow to the tyrannical “10 albums only” regulations.
Cynic – Kindly Bent To Free Us
Anubis Gate – Horizons
Teramaze – Esoteric Symbolism
Lunatic Soul – Walking On a Flashlight Beam
Ne Obliviscaris – Citadel
Persuader – The Fiction Maze
Dragonforce – Maximum Overload
Spectral Lore – III
Ill Omen – Enthroning the Bonds of Abhorrence
Fen – Carrion Skies
Mare Cognitum – Phobos Monolith
Darkspace – III I
clipping – CLPPNG
Rome – A Passage to Rhodesia
Lord Mantis – Death Mask
Haken – Restoration
Cult of Fire – Čtvrtá symfonie ohně
Bereft – Lost Ages
Mournful Congregation – Concrescence of Sophia
Necros Christos – Nine Graves
And now we move on to the stars of the show!
Sacred White Noise
There was a time when black metal was a scary, unsettling, unknown music that made you feel like you were losing you mind.
Ontario, Canada’s Thantifaxath bring that feeling right back with their debut Sacred White Noise. It’s one of the most unsettling and fucking terrifying albums I have heard in quite some time. The guitar riffs feel askew, like a surrealist film by Jan Svanmajer. Nothing seems right, and yet everything is so fucking delicious. Even when the music is doing something a bit more orthodox, the passion in the vocals keeps the fear going, and when both are doing strange things, it elevates it to ungodly levels of excellence.
Favourite songs: “The Bright White Nothing At the End of the Tunnel” “Gasping in Darkness” “Lost in Static Between Worlds”
Ah, Dan Swano; you are back on my year-end list again, I see.This time it’s with his prog rock project Nightingale, and this is one of the nicest, most uplifting, and catchiest prog rock outings I have heard in a while.
The songwriting is tight, and Dan’s voice is smooth as fucking butter. The production is fantastic, and the lyrics are all very uplifting and inspiring. The keyboard and piano sounds are especially good on the ears, but the true highlight is Dan’s voice, which soars and wraps the listener in a warm blanket. The choruses are especially hooky and you’ll find them ringing in your head for hours afterwards. This is a truly excellent prog album.
Ego Dominus Tuus
If there was ever a band that could possibly be considered the successor to Emperor’s furious, cold, vaguely symphonic black metal, it’s Colorado’s Nightbringer, who have grown into that mould excellently. Ego Dominus Tuus is a massive shrouded offering of black metal that makes nods to the Norwegian scene and the influences that sprang from that – but they put their entire spiritual being into becoming an entity all on their own.
The vocals are utterly savage and inhuman. The guitars wail and shriek, the drums blast, and the entire thing seems just slightly obscured by a miasmal fog that gives the album a strange atmosphere, but does nothing to mask the fire and ferocity of this album.
Favourite songs: “Et Nox Illumination Mea In Deliciis Meis” “I Am The Gateway” “Where Fire Never Dreamt of Man”
The Great Old Ones
Lovecraftian black metal from France! The Great Old Ones’ first album was brought to my attention a few years ago by a friend, and I thought it was great.
Fast forward to this year and the release of Tekeli-li, their second album. It’s an utterly superb offering of atmospheric black metal, mixing doomy elements to create a seeping, crawling madness, lurking just at the threshold of the light, in the corner of your eye.
It is largely driven by its atmosphere, but it throws out some seriously heavy riffs as well, whilst the odd post-black elements drive home the cold, sanity-draining aspect of Tekeli-li.
Favourite songs: “Antarctica” “Behind The Mountains” “The Elder Things”
Roads To The North
Panopticon have been a rising star in black metal for a few years now. Mastermind Austin Lunn’s fusion of black metal with bluegrass has captured the attention of many, and Roads To The North might be the project’s finest work yet.
The musicianship is fantastic, both from the black metal side, as well as the bluegrass. Lunn brings a cold intensity to his music and wrings a raw “sounds like it was recorded in a mountain cave with a really nice recording studio” aesthetic from the mix. It is rather like a blanket of heavy snow over the vast northlands; refreshing, melodic, and beautiful.
Favourite songs: “The Echoes of a Disharmonic Evensong” “The Long Road parts I and II” “Chase The Grain”
This is a bit of a curveball on my list. I could make a separate list for non-metal albums, but that seems cheap somehow.
In any case, Dangerous Days – a retro future-noir themed 80s synth wave album – really caught my attention. It sounds like if, in Blade Runner, a replicant ended up being possessed by Satan and started committing ritual sacrifice of humans.
Samples from movies such as Terminator stand alongside relentless pulsing rhythms. The hypnotic synth leads are surprisingly catchy, and this collection of songs will make you want to find a place where you can dance and do strange stimulants, all in the name of the great digital overlord Satan.
Favourite songs: “Pertubator’s Theme” “Future Club” “She Is Young, She Is Beautiful, She Is Next”
A storm; a force; an unbreakable war machine. That’s what Sabaton are at this stage in their career. They appear nigh unstoppable; Heroes is their seventh album, and it might hold up as their best.
The songwriting is supremely tight and catchy, and some of these vocal melodies are the best they’ve ever written. Their lyrics, as always, tell war stories, but this time around they’re telling the stories of individual heroes in battles, which is totally fucking rad.
Peter Tagtgtgtgtgtren did the mixing, and he nailed it, making Sabaton sound like the sonic equivalent of a panzer battalion bursting through your bedroom door at night. Heroes is an heroic effort from a band that probably deserves consideration for being one of the best metal bands in the world at the moment.
Who needs Opeth? Progressive death metal is alive, thanks to Belarusians Serdce. Timelessness is their fourth album, though it is the first experience I have had with. them.
Cynic are a big influence here, but only sometimes. Mostly, Timelessness feels like a completely fresh and new take on more technical progressive metal. Whammy pedals, saxophones, piano, and a mix of harsh and clean vocals are thrown together in a way the sounds crisp and clean, but not over-polished. The way everything seems to just slide around while being perfectly in sync with each other is fucking top notch.
Timelessness has definitely made me into a fan of this band, and I look forward to hearing lots more from them in the future!
Favourite songs “Samadhi” “Loss of Feelings, Feelings of Loss” “Quasar”
Death metal from the Warp? Sweden’s Morbus Chron have only been together for a short time, but this, their sophomore album, is a truly mind-bending and exceptional release. It twists and turns and claws a path through a shifting formless chaos, and causes cracks to spread across space/time itself.
Sweven is not an album to listen to often, but every listen is incredibly enjoyable and brings something new to your attention. The guitars dance in and out of harmonies, and though they are sparse, the vocals ring and scrape across reality.
This is a fascinating listen and definitely sets this young band up for some serious success in the future.
I called this one in my review. Solstafir’s Ótta absolutely blew me away with its emotional involvement, complex layers, and gorgeous shimmering pastoral atmosphere, creating an extremely relaxed and emotive feeling.
The instrumentation – both the post-rock and the more folky stuff such as the banjo – is beautiful and the song arrangements create a feeling that you might get when you’re standing on a lonely hillside in the wilderness and the golden rays of dawn break through the clouds, and a relaxing wind makes its way through the valley around you. Solstafir are a true Icelandic treasure, and Ótta is, far and away, the most beautiful album of the year, and easily my favourite from 2014.
Favourite songs: “Ótta” “Náttmál” “Lágnætti”
And there you have it! My take on the good, the bad, and the ugly from 2014! It was a good year, particularly for black metal, and, while prog didn’t have as good a year as it did last year, it still had some lovely gems that I’m going to be going back to again and again.
Now bring on 2015.