Josh takes us through his highlights of 2014, featuring; Iced Earth, Architects, Mastodon and, uh… Taylor Swift.
I think it’s a tad ridiculous that we’ve pushed this thing out to 30, so I won’t bother with “honorable mentions” since the first five-to-ten albums are pretty much that anyway, but the above collage is pretty much every album I deemed a four-star or greater album that came out this year, so if you’re wondering where’s this album or that album take a look up there and boom! there it probably is. Likewise, if anything up there catches your eye it comes with my highest recommendation, so go ahead and check it out.
Anyway, on with the countdown:
30. Overkill – White Devil Armory (Review)
Finally! An Overkill record that’s actually as good as Overkill records are meant to be. Although a lot of its appeal may be to do with the fact that they’ve finally backed off D.D. Verni’s godawful bass tone and you don’t have to listen through ten feet of twang to discern any actual riffs. Either way, White Devil Armory is a damn fine record.
Album you love that this is totally better than: The last two overkill records.
29. Belphegor – Conjuring The Dead (Review)
Neil might not have been the biggest fan of this record but from my perspective Conjuring The Dead is a tour de force of blackened death metal that simply wipes the floor with the year’s other comparable releases.
I have mixed feelings about The Satanist and I actually listened to Conjuring The Dead back to back with Nachtmystium’s slightly more favorable The World We Left Behind. while those two albums are big on scope and intent – something that perhaps Conjuring The Dead lacks – what they don’t have are the monstrous riffs Belphegor are determined to unleash upon you at every second with this album.
Neil wrote that “the lack of forward momentum really hurts the album,” but to my ears Conjuring The Dead is nothing but – ripping the listener from riff to riff with a dark violence that has rarely been captured elsewhere.
Album you love that this is totally better than: Behemoth – The Satanist.
28. – Redacted.
27. U2 – Songs Of Innocence (Not reviewed by TMO.)
I got into U2 hard in 2014; due to Adam Scott Aukerman’s amazing U Talkin’ U2 To Me? podcast, which, if this were a list of my favorite things of the year (let alone all time) would be a clear number 1. I had always harbored a resentment towards the band, which I now realize has as much to do with personal resentment of parental overplaying and the fact that they’ve barely done anything worthwhile since I’ve been born (1990).
Songs Of Innocence isn’t a great album but it is a really, really good one. It may not have a really huge single like “Beautiful Day” or even “Vertigo” but Songs Of Innocence is consistently engaging across the board, something U2 haven’t managed for a long time. One if this album’s greatest strengths is the reigning in of Bono’s overblown lyrical scope (i.e. Jesus complex) and writing more personal and introspective songs, which otherwise varyingly put to shame the many imitators the modern incarnation of the band have spawned (read: Coldplay, who continue to be entirely awful) and vigorously throwing back to U2’s early, post-punk inspired sound.
Album you love that this is totally better than: U2 – All That You Can’t Leave Behind.
26. Whitechapel – Our Endless War (Review)
2014 has been a stellar year for the deathcore genre and Whitechapel continue to be the best of them. Our Endless War isn’t quite as good a record as their previous, self-titled outing, and it does indeed drop the ball pretty hard at times, but it more than makes up for it in its better moments.
The opening, self-titled track is an insanely well constructed tune that single-handledly shows just how far Whitechapel have come as songwriters and musicians from their humble deathcore beginnings, and, if it weren’t for my number 1 pick, would be a clear choice for opening track of the year.
…and a bunch of the other songs on the record ain’t to shabby neither.
Album you love that this is totally better than: Machine Head – Bloodstone & Diamonds.
25. Rings Of Saturn – Lugal Ki En (Review)
I had prepared myself to like this album but I was (and remain) completely unprepared to like it this much. For whatever reason I still remain skeptical going into Lugal Ki En whenever I decide to give it a spin but each and every time it puts my reservations to shame – there’s simply no denying the force of those riffs and, far more importantly, songs!
Lugal Ki En is a very well thought out technical death metal record that actually manages to do something interesting and slightly different with the genre for a change and its elder statesmen would do well to take note.
album you love that this is totally better than: Origin – Omnipresent.
This is one of the earliest albums I really got into in 2014 and it has remained with me, on high rotation, throughout. The Mire were brought to mine (and most people’s) attention via their guitarist Robin Urbino’s touring stint with Bring Me The Horizon, and what a find they are!
Fear not “true” metalheads, The Mire’s sound could scarcely be more removed from the floppy-fringe-and-skinny-jeans scene. They play a brand of post metal tonally similar to that of the late, great Isis, and while Glass Cathedrals, doesn’t quite measure up to their astounding Volume: II EP, it’s a striking debut that should really have (and should continue to) garner more attention than it received.
Album you love that this is totally better than: Old Man Gloom – The Ape Of God.
23. Hour Of Penance – Regicide (Review)
In a year positively peppered with outstanding death metal releases, Regicide is immediately identifiable as one of its greatest.
Perfectly blending the crushing heaviness and brutal technicality honed over their already formidable back catalog, Regicide stands tall as not only one of Hour Of Penance’s best but one of the best additions to the death metal canon in recent times.
Album you love that this is totally better than: Nile – In Their Darkened Shrines.
22. Periphery – Clear (Review)
Normally I wouldn’t include an EP on this list but; a) Clear is more of a mini album (whatevr that means; and b) it’s just that good.
For a stopgap, experimental release, Clear holds together amazingly well – better than most of their contemporaries output at least. Speaking of which, Monuments’ debut album Gnosis (2012) remains my favorite djent album to date but I felt rather let down by this year’s follow-up, The Amanuensis, as I did by all other stabs at the genre in 2014. Periphery alone successfully flew the flag for the genre they helped pioneer and popularize and they flew it mightily high indeed.
Count me drooling in anticipation of 2015’s early release of their “proper,” double album Juggernaut. Fuck, I’m even pumped to hear the new From First To Last (you know, that whiny emo band that gave us Skrillex) record.* Spencer Sotelo is the man.
* Albeit less excited than when I thought it was From Autumn To Ashes instead.
Album you love that this is totally better than: Monuments – The Amanuensis.
21. At The Gates – At War With Reality (Review)
Can everyone get of At The Gates’ dick for sounding too much like At The Gates already, Jeez. Every criticism I’ve heard or read about this album is that it sounds too much like Slaughter Of The Soul, you know, that same record those same people have been lambasting every other bloody metal release for the last blood twenty years almost for not sounding enough like. Gah!, give it a rest already.
Sure, At War With Reality doesn’t take that huge creative leap that all other At The Gates releases have been defined by. However, what it does do is put together some of the tightest, most well-constructed, thrash-based, melodic death metal heard since that landmark album’s release.
Album you love that this is totally better than: The Haunted – Exit Wounds.
20. Karnivore – In The Halls Of The Wicked (Review)
Sometimes a virtually unknown band comes along and quite simply blows their better-known competitors right out of the water, and Karnivore did just that with their second album In The Halls Of The Wicked.
Anyone who has ever enjoyed anything by the likes of Dimmu Borgir or At The Gates is only doing themselves a severe and prolonged disservice the longer they put off picking up this record.
Album you love that this is totally better than: Most Dimmu Borgir records.
19. Rise Against – The Black Market (Not Reviewed by TMO.)
I have to say I found myself considerably let down by Against Me!’s highly anticipated Transgender Dysphoria Blues. Sure, it’s a record that may go on to be somewhat of a landmark in the punk/alternative scene but that is mainly due to the identification of singer Laura Jane Grace and the record’s confronting subject matter rather than the intrinsic quality of the music itself, which, despite general critical acclaim, I found to be rather sub-par.
On the other hand, this rather run-of-the-mill albeit (expectedly) politically-charged record from Rise Against – a band I dropped off of somewhat following the release of their own underwhelming, commercial breakthrough, Endgame (2011) – hits just the right spot. It may be Rise Against by numbers but The Black Market also happens to contain the best collection of Rise Against songs since 2004’s landmark Siren Songs Of The Counter Culture.
Anyone who finds their earnest political preachings off-putting might want to consider how appropriate it is to be subtle and nuanced about ongoing war crimes and genocide and systematic class war and the like.
Album you love that this is totally better than: Against Me! – Transgender Dysphoria Blues.
18. Killwhitneydead – Suffer My Wrath (Review)
Killwhitneydead’s reinvention as a melodic thrash outfit has to be one of the most unexpected and welcome surprises of 2014. Suffer My Wrath has been somewhat of a go-to album for me this year, when I’m looking for something undeniably heavy but rather less oppressive than the usual slew of death and -core record I keep in rotation, and it continues to impress each time.
A large degree of Suffer My Wrath‘s success can be attributed to the addition of Vanisher guitarist Kyle Odell, and the guest spots from that band’s vocalist Justin Reich do have it coming off as a Vanisher record on speed, and there ain’t nothing wrong with that. In fact, Suffer My Wrath only goes to suggest that it is indeed everything that is right and holy with the world.
Album you love that this is totally better than: Any other thrash metal album released this year.
17. Iced Earth – Plagues Of Babylon (Review)
There seems to have been a bit of backlash against this album, and I’m not really sure why. The main complaint levied against Plagues Of Babylon appears to be that it’s just “too slow” and while, yes, the overall tempo of this record is rather subdued compared to Iced Earth’s previous releases, especially the driving, bombastic Dystopia that preceded it, that’s part of Plagues Of Babylon‘s charm.
By slowing things down, Iced Earth have created a moody, almost atmospheric record that succeeds due to its queer, occult charm as much as its killer arsenal of riffs, which is by no means depleted this time around. The contrast between its overbearing thrash elements and brooding aesthetic make Plagues Of Babylon one of the most dynamic listens in Iced Earth’s extensive catalog.
Album you love that this is totally better than: The last four or so Iron Maiden records.
16. Taylor Swift – 1989 (Not reviewed by TMO, duh!)
I love Taylor Swift. I have suspected this ever since I first heard “Love Story” and it was more or less confirmed with the release of her last album Red (2012). However, with 1989 my relationship with Tay Sway has developed into full-blown love affair. Few albums this year have made me so, just, happy, and if I were to remove any sort of objective, artistic merit from this list and base it purely on how often and how much I have enjoyed listening to each album since its release then 1989 is a clear contender for the top two and to exclude her from this list would be both ingenuous and unjust.
Even with my objective scope in tact, 1989 is without doubt one of the best records of 2014, regardless of genre, and is surely the one album released this year that will be heralded for years to come. Sure, it’s light, unchallenging and inoffensive pop music but compared to her contemporaries (Katy Perry, Nicki Minage, One Direction, whoever) Swift is a substantial breath of fresh air. She’s an independently driven and clearly talented musician/songwriter for one, and the unabashed positivity she exudes is beyond refreshing.
Besides whatever niche Swift occupies within the current pop paradigm, 1989 is simply made up of brilliantly crafted pop songs, the production is outstanding and Swift’s voice has improved leaps and bounds over her already formidable prior output – seeming far more comfortable atop the undeniably pop soundscape as opposed to her previous “country” drawl.
Album you love that this is totally better than: Whatever the last Blind Guardian album was or whatever.
15. Devin Townsend – Z2: Sky Blue & Dark Matters (but mostly Sky Blue) (Curiously Not reviewed by TMO.)
I’m not really sure what the logic was behind releasing Sky Blue as part of the Z2 compilation was but Devin Townsend has never been the most predictable of artists, so whatever; I’m just glad it exists. Sky Blue is the best thing Townsend has done since Addicted! and perfectly blends that records driving force with the expansive and ethereal tones of earlier records like Accelerated Evolution and Terria.
Not to discount Dark Matters, which manages to pull off the impossible task of being a hugely anticipated sequel record that completely lives up to the original, let alone doesn’t flat out blow goats, and it’s hard to think of much that I’ve derived as much joy from this year than the accompanying Ziltoid Radio and TV material. The Z2 suite is undoubtedly the foremost artistic achievement of 2014.
Album(s) you love that this is totally better than: Devin Townsend – Deconstruction & Epicloud.
14. Sabaton – Heroes (Review)
Despite being persistent favorites around these parts, I’d never been able to get into Sabaton, until Heroes that is. I now realize that The Art Of War is an absolute masterpiece but Heroes was, and forever will be, the gateway.
Heroes’ stripped back approach (by Sabaton standards at least) makes for a far more accessible listen than the overblown Carolus Rex that preceded it, and Heroes is all the stronger for it. Besides one serious clunker (“The Ballad Of Bull”) Heroes is a perfect album from start to finish, and their awesome cover of “For Whom The Bell Tolls” has the honor of taking out “bonus track of the year.”
If you ever get the chance to see Sabaton live, do it.
Album you love that this is totally better than: Sabaton – Carolus Rex.
13 – Mastodon – Once More ‘Round The Sun (Review)
It speaks volumes about the quality of (metal) music in 2014 that an album as good as Once More ‘Round The Sun can’t even crack the top ten.
Being one of the seemingly few people on the face of the planet that not only didn’t like The Hunter but thought it was an abysmal pile of shit – not because of the stripped back prog approach, which I’m all for, but because apart from “Curl Of The Burl” and “Spectrelight” it consisted of worthless, messy, directionless garbage as opposed to you know, actual good songs – this album comes as welcome assurance that Mastodon are still the kings of their craft and rightful torchbearers of contemporary metal. Everything The Hunter did wrong (i.e. everything) Once More ‘Round The Sun does so, so right.
Album you love that this is totally better than: Mastodon – The Hunter.
12. Arch Enemy – War Eternal (Review)
This might be my most pleasantly surprising album of the year. It’s not that I didn’t think War Eternal would be any good but I had no idea (nor probably did anyone else) that it would be this good. War Eternal is a perfect arch enemy album and easily matches the best of the Gossow and Liiva eras.
Alissa White-Gluz even proves herself the pick of the bunch; her tastefully minimalist cleans on “Avalanche” still give me shivers every time, and, as stoked as I am to see how Arch Enemy pans out with Jeff motherfucking Loomis in the band, Arsis’s Nick Coordle proved himself the perfect replacement for Christopher Amott and is seemingly the biggest “X-factor” contributing to War Eternal‘s success.
Album you love that this is totally better than: Arch Enemy – Wages Of Sin.
11. Vader – Tibi Et Igni (Review)
Later bands on this list might be busy pushing death metal into uncharted territories, but Vader (along with Cannibal Corpse, Bloodbath and Obituary) leave no doubt that there’s plenty of grunt left in the genre’s old bones.
Of all the albums on this list Tibi Et Igni is the one I thought my enthusiasm might have waned for over time, but it’s no less crushing and devastating and completely awesome with each play.
Album you love that this is totally better than: Bloodbath – Grand Morbid Funeral.
10. Son Of Aurelius – Under A Western Sun (Also curiously Not reviewed by TMO.)
This one kind of slid under the radar a bit, at least around here (it came out while I was overseas and taking a break), which is a shame because it’s surely one of the most astounding progressive metal records put to record. Those let down by Cynic’s Kindly Bent To Free Us and/or find Between The Buried And Me a tad too abrasive to get into would do themselves a huge favor to pick this one up.
In a word: soaring. In another: Transcendent.
Album you love that this is totally better than: Cynic – Focus.
9. Architects – Lost Forever // Lost Together (Review)
This might seem pretty tame compared to some of the other albums on this list but don’t underestimate this Brighton quintet because of their swooped haircuts and skinny jeans. Lost Forever // Lost Together is an absolute beast, and certainly one of the years heaviest and most aggressive.
I’ve loved everything Architects have done since Hollow Crown, including and especially The Here And Now (and even Ruin before that), but this record takes their sound to a whole new level and stands alongside Hollow Crown as their greatest effort to date. This is a record that continually to set the standard for music in 2014 and will surely do so for years to come.
Album you love that this is totally better than: Bring Me The Horizon – Sempiternal.
8. Shaka Ponk – The Black Pixel Ape (Drinking Cigarettes To Take A Break) (Not reviewed by TMO.)
So after hitting up Hellfest back in June, my girlfriend and I went up to Normandy for Festival Beauregard where, besides some lame indie bands my girlfriend likes, a) The Dillinger Escape Plan were playing and b) so were Blondie. The second and third days of the festival were headlined by big names like Portishead and The Pixies but we got stuck with some band I’d never heard of called Shaka Ponk. It’s pretty rare that I haven’t heard of a band, especially one big enough to headline a three-day festival but oh my god did Shaka Ponk deliver!
They are quite frankly the most insane thing I have ever seen – shifting seamlessly from thrash metal to Rob Zombie-style industrial grooves into disco pop choruses seemingly without changing a thing, and it doesn’t hurt that “Sex Ball” is officially the best song ever. …oh, and there was fucking nuclear space gorilla drum-off for fuck’s sake!!!!!
The Black Pixel Ape is one of two albums the band released this year, the other being The White Pixel Ape which would have been my top pick for “honorable mentions” had I included them, and while The Black Pixel Ape doesn’t have a song quite as good as “Wanna Get Free” it’s by far the more consistent of the two.
Black Pixel Ape is fairly tame by Shaka Ponk standards, being more or less a straight forward, heavy (and super-catchy) hard rock record, but it’s also pretty much the best straight forward heavy hard rock album in years – a claim backed up by its ability to finally drag me out of my habit of spinning 1989 like thirty times a day. Definitely my best find of 2014.
Here’s a video of them performing The Black Pixel Ape‘s opening track and one of their older songs at Festival Beauregard:
7. Noneuclid – Metatheosis (Not reviewed by TMO.)
Metatheosis is one of three albums dropped by members of Dark Fortress this year – the others being that band’s own Venereal Dawn and the Thomas G. Warrior-headed Triptykon’s Melana Chasmata – and it makes each of those records look tired and tame by comparison (a greater feat in one case than the other).
Metatheosis is truly progressive death metal, pushed to its limits without compromising any of the genre’s sheer brutality. The musicianship is outstanding but it’s Noneuclid’s ear for boundary-pushing composition that has Metatheosis taking no prisoners.
Album you love that this is totally better than: Triptykon – Melana Chasmata.
Sweet artwork too.
6. Allegaeon – Elements Of The Infinite (Review)
Few albums have straight up blown me away as hard as Allegaeon’s Elements Of The Infinite (that’s why it’s so high up in my list ya’ see ;)). These guys deserve to be huge and it’s increasingly hard to see why they aren’t. It’s as if they took a look around at what everyone else was doing, regardless of genre, and went “Nope, this is how you do it.” Allegaeon simply do it all better; technicality, heaviness, melody, take your pick. Elements Of The Infinite is utterly destructive, it’s the kind of album that makes listening to other records difficult afterwards because the simply pale in comparison.
Also, there’s no doubt that the title of “best video of the year” goes to “1.618.” No contest.
Album you love that this is totally better than: Once again, Machine Head – Bloodstone & Diamonds.
5. Nightmare – The Aftermath (Review)
I’m not normally one for power metal but in 2014 the genre’s been on a roll as far as amazing power metal albums go and The Aftermath is the best of them. Bombastic and insanely melodic while simultaneously being crushingly heavy, The Aftermath is the perfect example of the classic power metal aesthetic updated for the modern age. Like Dio with serious balls (and/or a giant clit).
Album you love that this is totally better than: Whatever the last Blind Guardian album was or whatever.
Was totes there. No big deal.
4. Art Far Away – Verisimilitude & The Second Estate (Review)
This was the forerunner for my album of the year for some time. Verisimilitude & The Second Estate is the best debut record I’ve heard in ages, (since at least Remission?) and that only goes to further its already impressive scope.
With this record Art Far Away instantly outclass their influences, in highly regarded acts such as (but not limited to) Gojira, Cynic, Mastodon and any other progressive metal heavyweight you want to throw in there. I’m sure many will look it over but, more than any other on this list, this is the album I urge you to check out. If Art Far Away are the future then the future is bright indeed.
Album you love that this is totally better than: Gojira – The Way Of All Flesh.
Also, that mo!
3. Unearth – Watchers Of Rule (Review)
Not that their previous output is anything to be scoffed at but Unearth pushed their sound so much further in every way with Watchers Of Rule. Harder, faster, stronger; every track here absolutely rips. And if Still Remains’ Ceasing To Breathe is disqualified from this list by technically being released in like the last four days of 2013 then I’m glad Unearth are here to wave the flag for awesome, uncompromising and ridiculously heavy metalcore in 2014.
Album you love that this is totally better than: Machine Head – Bloodstone & Diamonds.
2. Enabler – La Fin Absolue Du Monde (Review)
I’d have to say Trap Them’s Blissfucker is one of my biggest disappointments of 2014. It’s not that it’s a bad album but it lacks the power of their other releases and there’s not a whole lot else to grab onto. That’s ok though, because a) Blissfucker is definitely the all-time best album title ever of all time; and b) Enabler happened to release this beast about a week or so later to make up for it so don’t even worry about it.
Believe the hype. La Fin Absolue Du Monde is every bit as good as you’ve heard it’s meant to be. Also, it’ll rip you like seven new assholes at once, so there’s that.
Album you love that this is totally better than: Trap Them – Blissfucker.
1. Killer Be Killed – Killer Be Killed (Review)
As great a year for metal as 2014 was, there really was no competition for my number one spot. “Wings Of Feather And Wax” is good enough to be album of the year on its own and the rest of the album only goes from strength to strength.
Killer Be Killed has set the benchmark for all supergroups; past, present and future. It’s the perfect blend of each of its contributors individual styles while still having its own distinct personality, and it might just be the best thing Max Cavalera has ever done (sorry Beneath The Remains)
Album you love that this is totally better than: All of them.