Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Top 10 of 2014

I can actually say this was the first year in several where I felt like I'm leaving off a bunch of good releases from my list. 2014 has been one of the stronger years in metal in some time; probably since 2001. Since I haven't updated this as often as in the past years (I have some ideas I might write about while I've got a break between now when grad school starts up again in a few weeks) I'll be covering a bit of ground here.

Biggest Disappointment of 2014:

At The Gates At War With Reality

I think At The Gates was always overrated; yes Slaughter of the Soul is one of the landmark albums of metal history, and everything about it sounds just as vital today as it did in 1996. The problem is the rest of their discography; the only other thing ATG did that I'd consistently reach for to listen to is the Terminal Spirit Disease EP. There's moments of brilliance on their other releases, but also stuff that just bored me and failed to really capture my attention. Sorry, it's the truth. If you're telling me you reach for The Red In The Sky Is Ours on a consistent basis, you're probably lying. There's just too much better stuff out there.

At War With Reality doesn't suffer from songwriting, or technical proficiency, or inspiration. I'm certain these songs sounded great in the rehearsal space, and it could have been a worthy follow up to (if not quite as good as) Slaughter of the Soul. The problem here is that the production on this album is so incredibly wrong, wrong WRONG. It's too pristine and pretty, to the point that these songs lack the urgency and venom that made Slaughter of the Soul so compelling. It's the same goddamned problem that The Haunted had when Peter Dolving rejoined the band for rEvolver. If this album has the production of Slaughter of the Soul or Terminal Spirit Disease even, it's a top 5 album for me. Instead, it's just...there. Listen and tell me this doesn't scream for a more...human production?

Honorable mentions of 2014:

Benevolent The Covenant
Black Anvil Hail Death 
Bolzer Soma
Cannibal Corpse A Skeletal Domain
Decimation Reign of Ungodly Creation
Devangelic Resurrection Denied
Digging Up Disseminated Inapparent Infection 
Jig-Ai Rising Sun Carnage
Misery Index The Killing Gods
Ne Obliviscarius Citadel 
November's Doom Bled White
Septycal Gorge Scourge of the Formless Breed
Sinister The Post Apocalyptic Servant
Woccon Solace in Decay

...and probably a bunch more that have slipped my memory at the moment. 2014 was a GOOD year.

Top 10:

10.) Solstafir Otta

Post metal? I actually missed their performance at MDF in 2014 because of traffic, but I understood that they made quite an impression. The thing with this style is that it can either be majestic and compelling, where bands create moods and keep your attention with subtle hooks while building to epic peaks, or it's just a snooze-fest. Unlike a lot of artists who try this sorta thing but bore me to tears (recent Anathema, Sigur Ros), Otta is a dreary, somber, yet engaging listen. The reason it's only 10th on my list is more to do with my personal tastes than its quality, but this has replaced Pelican and Red Sparrowes as my go-to when I'm in the mood for this style.

9.) Insomnium Shadows of the Sun

When you have a good formula, stick with it. Too many people belly ache and cry about bands needing to take gigantic leaps and stylistic shifts with each album. You know what happens when bands do that, and deviate from what they're best at? They release shit. Insomnium has a clear, confident identity about who and what they are, which is a doom inspired melodic death metal band that draws more from Metallica and Sentenced than Iron Maiden (which explains why they sound distinct from say, Children of Bodom and that yuck.)  There isn't a single surprise to be found on this album, just well crafted highly memorable songs that I found myself listening to an awful lot. 

8.) Vallenfyre Splinters

Greg McIntosh is pretty good at this death metal thing. A bit doomier than A Fragile King was, but it still retains that crusty grind vibe too. And those haunting guitar melodies! This was meant to be played at maximum volume to scare the neighbors.

7.) Hideous Divinity Cobra Verde

What happened in Italy? Used to be Italy only produced frilly froo froo power metal crap, but the last couple years have seen the proliferation of really intense, strong brutal death metal bands. Hideous Divinity took a leap forward from the other outstanding Italian bands with Cobra Verde in 2014, with their Nile-influenced tech death. This is FAST, but still has some brutal grooves and isn't just an exercise in fretboard masturbation. 

6.) Soen Tellurian

This is the album Opeth should have released the last 2 times around. Imagine a combination of Tool, Opeth, and Katatonia performed by top notch musicians who also knew how to write great songs. You'd get Tellurian. It's nerd metal that you don't have to be a nerd to appreciate. 

5.) Dead Congregation Promogulation of the Fall

The best "new" death metal band to come out in the last few years. Nothing new here from their previous efforts; it's dark, dank, and full of inhumanly low vocals and moody guitars. A soundtrack to hell.

4.) Voices London

Some of the Akercocke guys managed to step foot from underneath the rock they had been hiding under, and we're rewarded with London, every bit as ambitious as Akercocke was on those amazing later releases. A disorienting story about a man's descent towards suicide, this is uncomfortable at times, as dischordant riffing leads to furious black metal blasts which again delves into oddly melancholy. Not really a banger, per se, as you'll finish this kinda feeling like "what the hell did I just listen to?" but one hell of a ride. 

3.) Pallbearer Foundations of Burden

Most of the best-of lists I'm reading have this at number one, and I think in an ordinary year it probably is. This is epic, monumental doom of the highest quality. The vocals reek of despair, those riffs plod and crush, there's even a ting of classic rock sensibility in some of the guitar harmonies. Pallbearer in the course of 2 albums has reached "doom metal elite status." That's not hyperbole.

2.) Triptykon Melana Chasmata 

Another album that in most years is a clear number one. This feels like the fully realized, matured vision of Celtic Frost that all of those years of experimentation was striving for. That guitar tone is still absolutely massive and crushing and while there are moments of fury, the strength of this album is in the down tempo, ominous doom. Tom Fischer's croon paired with that haunting female voice on "Boleskin House" creates an unsettling vibe; this album is a tortured vision by a miserable man. 

1.) Behemoth The Satanist

As soon as I heard this album, it immediately struck me as the most vital, important album to be released in metal since Opeth's Blackwater Park in 2001. So much of this album is based on the mythology cultivated by Nergal's battles with Polish legal authorities as well as a life threatening ordeal versus leukemia and how, faced with death and imprisonment, he remained completely unapologetic in his personal ideology. Overcoming all of that, he then writes Behemoth's most ambitious album; moving away from their take on Polish death metal to create an epic, defiant statement drawing not just on his personal philosophy and resilience, but reaching across a variety of genres for influences; there's elements of Killing Joke, classic rock, their earlier black metal days, choirs and chants...yet through all of this the band remains familiar. This is still ugly, extreme metal full of blastbeats and ugly vocals that is hardly commercial in any sense; it's just that this time Behemoth managed to delve across the many subgenres of metal and beyond to craft their magnum opus.

The last time a band returned from a long break to this much hype was Dissection, who returned to play shitty melodeath before Jon Nodtveidt did the world a favor and killed himself. Unlike Dissection, not only did Behemoth live up to the hype, they surpassed it, creating what will probably be the album of this decade. 


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