Best of 2014
Things were quiet around here this year. Between my new, demanding job in the music industry and becoming more of a real ‘adult’ with bigger responsibilities I had to scale back on writing a bit. The reviews I did write were largely for MetalBandcamp, as that site and platform will never cease to be a passion. But The Alchemist’s Cave is not dead yet, it will continue to serve as a home to my rare ramblings for the foreseeable future. Even if it is largely more for my own edification more than anything.
But despite the infrequent posts here, I managed to consume more music than ever in 2014. On average I purchased 2 albums a week, and this forced me to spend more time listening and reflecting rather than writing. It was a year of completing collections, returning to my metallic roots, and venturing into sonic territories I hadn’t previously. And even though most of those purchases were new releases, most of my listening was focused on gems from yesteryear. Hammers of Misfortune’s discography, Slough Feg’s Traveller, and Bloodbath and Taake’s early releases are what captured most of my attention in 2014. And I’m okay with that, because the appreciation gained helped me to become a more discerning listener.
As for teetering on the edge of over-consumption, one of the greatest dangers for anyone who even casually follows the metal scene is a fear of missing out, and I’ve come to realize that missing out is okay, because it’s impossible not to. The Metal Archives shows over 5,600 full-lengths were released in the past 12 months, so no matter how many albums I pick up on a weekly basis it will never be possible to even scratch the surface. But to me such a staggering collection of metal floating out in the ether is more exciting than daunting. Because the search never ends, and that’s half the fun.
20. Pripjat – Sons of Tschernobyl
99% of thrash is terrible, this is a fact. But this German debut does away with everything that makes the genre largely unlistenable and delivers it in a fun, irradiated way that doesn’t take itself to seriously. This is a must for fans of early Slayer and Metallica.
19. Inter Arma – The Cavern
Consisting of a single 40-minute song the band has been tinkering with for years, The Cavern is a testament to the Virginians’ creative prowess. While the length is a bit of a gimmick as there are clearly defined songs within the larger whole, the sheer ambition of the work combined with the varying moods and influences is staggering.
18. Indian – From All Purity
Blackened sludge somehow became a subgenre known for its filthy heaviness, and From All Purity is the scene’s most recent disgusting gem. Chicago-based mastermind Sanford Parker joins the band to add a sheen of noise and harsh electronics that pushes the album over the edge into uncharted territories of aural devastation. Very few bands are capable of releasing music this heavy, nasty, but ultimately gorgeous.
17. Horrendous – Ecdysis
I spent a good deal of time this year trying to dig in to the throwback death metal scene, and I’m kicking myself for not giving it attention earlier. Modern death metal is largely stale to my ears, and I’ve always had a hard time getting into the early masters. But bands like Horrendous who mix the two styles while offering something new on a rotting bed of brilliant songwriting are a perfect fit, and Ecdysis is a testament to the fact that what is dead will never die.
16. Dead Congregation – Promulgation of the Fall
As above, so below. These Greeks take the throwback approach even more seriously, with some of the most meaty, heavy riffery in death metal. Although not as revelatory as their debut, this sophomore effort shows why Dead Congregation are one of the most revered underground acts in extreme metal.
15. Execration – Morbid Dimensions
I only discovered this monster last week, but the impact it’s already had on me can’t be overstated. Another mix of old school and modernity, Morbid Dimensions is more forward-thinking than most. Their brilliant, technical compositions take on a hydra-like status; just when one devastating piece begins to fade, another rears its nasty head.
14. Falconer – Black Moon Rising
Falconer’s Sceptre of Deception was one of the first metal albums I ever bought, but I had completely forgotten about the folky Swedes until this new album was announced early this year. While the vocals take some time to get used to, everything that makes this band great is on display as they somehow conjure up the best release of their career, 15 years after the fact.
13. Vredehammer – Vinteroffer
As a rule I try to listen to everything released by Indie Recordings. The Norwegian specialty label has a knack for releasing some of the best, most interesting black metal currently being produced in that legendary part of the world. Vredehammer play an interesting mix of melodic black and death metal, toying with occasional industrial nods and folkened riffs. As a whole the album is very good, not great, but it makes it this high in the list solely for the title track, which is one of my favorite songs of the year.
12. Cynic – Kindly Bent to Free Us
Their second album after a ridiculously long hiatus, Cynic’s third full-length is largely unmetal but any casual observer knows that deep down this is what the band has always meant to sound like. They’re no longer hinting at their spaced-out, proggy influences but embracing them with full force. Although extremity is lacking, sheer beauty is not.
11. 1349 – Massive Cauldron of Chaos
Many wrote off the Norwegian greats years ago, thinking they peaked with Hellfire and would never again be able to recapture that fury. But Frost and co. proved us all wrong with this return to their evil brand of thrashy black goodness they originally became famous for. The varied songs and infectious riffs show show the band at top form, proving that there’s nothing wrong with being both evil and catchy.
10. Hail Spirit Noir – Oi Magoi
Somehow even weirder than their off-the-wall debut, these Hellenic madmen crank the dial on their 70s prog influence with great success. The out of the blue tempo changes and wacky theatrics are better than ever as they play with a formula only the most transcendingly bizarre can manage.
9. Persuader – The Fiction Maze
Like Blind Guardian without the bombast, these power metallers remove any sense of cheese by sprinkling in more extreme influences. This is a power metal album for people who have largely written off the genre, proving that the European scene is neither dead nor dying.
8. Inconcessus Lux Lucis – Crux Lupus Corona
This was a late arrival, and an EP at that, but the songs therein contain some of the most unique black metal of the year. Utterly incomparable, these Englishman mix early black metal with NWOBHM and unique guitar tones to craft high energy weirdness that demands listen after listen.
7. Freedom Call – Beyond
The antithesis to Persuader, Freedom Call embrace the 90s cheesy glory with all their hearts and run with it. Epic anthems and odes to metal are the order of the day, but the Germans do it with such conviction as to make any doubter into a believer. Just try to listen to the intro track without a big, stupid grin on your face. This isn’t serious metal, but it’s seriously metal.
6. Spectral Lore – III
Atmospheric black metal is tough to do right. Sometimes droning hypnotism is a great mood setter, but often there’s not much weight contained within the endless tremolos. Spectral Lore manage to make this incredibly long album a wonder to the last drop, kicking you in the face right out of the gate and holding attention as it winds its way through a dynamic adventure of epic proportions.
5. Gridlink – Longhena
One of only a handful of grind albums in my collection, the little I know about the genre was completely turned on its head by this release. The textured, proggy sound manages to enthrall and warp minds with its absolutely insane ferocity. I won’t be surprised if this album gives birth to a whole new era of futuristic grind.
4. Fluisteraars – Dromers
The first great album released in 2014, the debut from this Dutch trio only contains three songs but the massive amounts of brilliant moments make this a damn-near perfect record. Heavily channeling Drudkh and other atmospheric greats, Fluisteraars inject a punk sensibility that ensures the double digit tracks never get repetitive or stale.
3. Morbus Chron – Sweven
At first seeming like a copycat of Tribulation’s Formulas of Death, Sweven turns death metal on its head by injecting heavy psychedelics and a groovy sensibility to create something unlike the world has ever heard. It’s dreamy, melodic nature is captivating and mysterious. I don’t know what the hell is going on in the Swedish scene right now, but I love this new direction.
2. Thy Darkened Shade – Liber Lvcifer I: Khem Sedjet
Interviews and social media show the band are religious fanatics of the most esoteric order, and they’re clearly channeling a dark energy from somewhere with stunning results. It’s rare that a black metal release over an hour is so captivating, but every single note comes close to hellish perfection as riffs rip from the abyss below. The entire album is absolutely jaw-dropping, but the highlight is the the production that emphasizes likely the best bass performance in black metal history.
1. Noble Beast – Noble Beast
I know, I know. What the hell is a power metal album doing at the top of a list on a site dedicated to black metal? It’s here because this is more than just an album, it’s a testament to everything I love about metal. It’s rooted itself deep under my skin since its release and there’s no getting rid of it. I gushed in my review of it back in March, and nothing I written has changed. If anything, the album means more to me now after the dozens of extra listens. Noble Beast remind that it’s okay to have a shitload of fun while listening to music, but they do so with one of the best executed debuts in American metal history.