Super Simon’s favourite records of 2014
So it’s come to this. A year of listening distilled down to a list of ten albums and five EPs that most floated my boat.
Perhaps the single most surprising thing about 2014 for me is that it was a year in which Devin Townsend put out four albums worth of material and none of them really excited me. But I doubt I will have to wait too long for something else from the man.
Reflecting on the list itself, it does seem to be most characterised by bands either properly finding their voices and delivering on past promise, and albums finally emerging after long gestation periods. Oh, and a couple of very pleasant surprises. There might not have been quite as much that really blew my socks off as there has been in recent years, but the quality of that which did more than made up for the slight drop in quantity.
The second album from these captains of the tech scene sees the quintet taking a leap forward on pretty much every front. The Amanuensis proves emphatically that Chris Baretto is the frontman the band have always needed. Influenced as much by Michael Jackson as it is by Meshuggah, The Amanuensis is a virtually flawless collection of pit-ready tracks jam-packed with killer riffs and memorable hooks. Are Baretto and Browne the Mick and Keith of the tech generation? On the evidence presented, very possibly.
It may have taken these Serbian troubadours longer than expected to unleash their debut album, but it was worth the wait. Quirky, imaginative and powerfully sexy, Lun combines delicate soulfulness, swaggering grooves and the off-kilter rhythms of eastern European folk music in a shiny progressive metal package. There is more than enough cleverness to keep the tech-heads happy, and plenty of curveballs to surprise and delight from beginning to end.
Guiding Lights is the sound of the intercontinental band coming of age. Their debut album was almost a happy accident, coming together gradually through online conversations and shared files, but Guiding Lights finds them all pointing in the same direction, and is all the more satisfying as a result. More focused, more mature and featuring some of the best performances we’ve seen from Dan Tompkins to date, Guiding Lights is a genuinely beautiful slice of intelligent progressive metal.
The word ‘epic’ has been thrown around a great deal in recent years, but III is an album truly deserving the description. Vast and cinematic to the point you’d think it had been filmed in widescreen and directed by Peter Jackson. Xerath have dialled down the death metal elements seen in previous releases and turned up the Devin Townsend-esque bombast to fill it’s place. Whilst many bands attempt to add orchestral flourishes to their songs, few do so anywhere near as successfully and credibly as Xerath.
Alaya are another band that kept us waiting for their debut album – a good fifteen months after lead single “Inside”, in fact. But, when it came, Thrones fully delivered on the promise of that first single. Their distinctive, triplet-heavy melodic tech is perfectly topped off by Evan’s soulful vocals. From start to finish, Thrones oozes beautiful, high-quality songs that could just as easily be performed with nothing more than an acoustic guitar, and proves that heaviness doesn’t have to be inextricably linked to outright aggression.
Are You Kidding Me? No.
Destrage – tech metal is, by and large, a pretty serious affair. But Italians Destrage have injected a significant dose of fun into the proceedings with their third album. Coming across like the love child of Guns n Roses and Dillinger Escape Plan, with Andrew WK as surrogate mother, they kick out tunes with a head for technicality and a heart for partying. Featuring some genuinely astonishing drumming and a song about shooting zombies in the face, Are You Kidding Me? No is guaranteed to bring a smile to the face of even the sternest of fretboard watchers.
After a four year gap, this long-serving German quartet offer up their third album, showcasing their distinctive take on progressive metal. Incorporating warm, analogue sections and a hearty modern digital crunch, Supra can tug at your heartstrings one minute and tear your face off the next. With a particularly effective line in rolling, lip-curling chug, Supra is a welcome addition to the illustrious back catalogue of Pelagic Records.
The Animal You Are
A late inclusion in the list thanks to its late November release date, and a timely reminder of the benefits of not starting work on a retrospective too early in the year. Sumer fully utilise the three guitars at their disposal to create a rich and captivating collection of songs that skirt along the boundaries of post rock and progressive metal. Having kept a relatively low profile since their inception back in 2010, The Animal You Are presents several damn fine reasons to pay close attention to Sumer in 2015.
Streets of Rage
With 2014 not even a week old, Centiment released their video game influenced debut. Centiment feature no fewer than three members of alt-metal stalwarts InMe in their ranks, but it is primarily the brainchild of InMe bassist Greg McPherson, who jumps over to guitar for this band. As a proposition, ‘gamer metal’ sounds a little risky, but Streets of Rage is a solid collection of modern metal songs, and the gaming elements never lapse into sounding cheesy or gimmicky. Streets of Rage is given an extra boost by vocalist Dave McPherson’s keen ear for a memorable chorus, and the net result is a band that stands squarely on its own two feet, and is far more than a side project curio.
Leave With Us
The first release on a resurgent Undergroove Records, Servers debut is a no-nonsense blast through a collection of hard-driving, high octane, desert-infused alt-metal tunes. Leave With Us is given an interesting and almost unique twist through frontman Lee’s obvious interest in cults, which runs as a theme through the songs whilst stopping short of being a full-blown concept album. With big, burly riffs and blissed out interludes, Leave with us is a refreshingly stripped back change of pace.
Bursting virtually out of nowhere in 2013, Zoax’s debut EP is a powerful statement of intent. XIII’s five songs display a remarkably mature songwriting talent in their angular, stop-start post-hardcore. Angelic and sincerely ferocious in equal measure, the tracks really come alive in their performance, helped along by frontman Adam’s compellingly watchable onstage persona. The lead single for their next EP, Lonely Souls is already with us ahead of its Feb 2015 release date and makes some big promises that Zoax are sure to have little difficulty in keeping.
Core of Io
With Gravity As My Hostess
This Brighton-based quartet’s debut EP collides tech-metal riffs, progressive songwriting and an almost punky exuberance that sees them coming across like The Safety Fire’s hyperactive younger brothers. Upbeat and uplifting, Core of Io’s sound is fresh and tremendously catchy. The four tracks on offer in this EP have been subsequently bolstered by two additional singles (14 Stitches and Why Not Take A Chance), proving that the quality of With Gravity As My Hostess is no one-off fluke.
Teeth, Hair & Skin
Under normal circumstances, taking two drummers and two bassists and giving them a week to write and record an EP would result in what could charitably be described as a clattering clusterfuck. But when those four musicians comprise half of Red Gang and two-thirds of Coilguns, it’s a very different story. Teeth Hair and Skin is a short, sharp blast of fuzzed out desert rock that is fresh, vital, unconventional and leaves the listener hungry for more.
Sometimes it can take a band years to grow into their sound, but Hieroglyph are progressing at such a rate they may well be leaving flaming tyretracks behind them. Neatly showcasing their talents, which draw in elements of post, sludge and tech metal, topped off with some imaginative his n’ hers vocals from Mark and Valentina, Freefall is the sound of a band really finding its voice. Exciting stuff.
Red Seas Fire
Confrontation is the second instalment in RSF’s inspired strategy of recording and releasing three EPs that will ultimately combine to form their debut full-length album. Some clear progression in the band, notably in a change in vocal approach for Robin, powerhouse drumming from Jake and some particularly tasty riffing from Pete all result in the best songs the band have produced to date. The band are obviously moving away from their tech-metal beginnings, but are maturing into something altogether more potent.