Through my own charm, genius and palpable immodesty, I have single-handedly, along with Grymm, convinced the Angry Metal Elders to grant me a big boy year-end list. My year’s tenure in the catacombs of AMG headquarters has proved fruitful beyond measure thanks not only to my brilliant colleagues and our dedicated readers, but to an incredible number of high-quality releases from high-profile legends, newcomers, and artists who, until now, were almost completely overlooked.
2014 was full of surprises, whether from the unexpected impact of records from newcomers, or the disappointing offerings from genre stalwarts. It also produced some completely unexpected dividends for me, including an unreleased master of one of the year’s best albums and the comforting knowledge that I and many of my colleagues have been plagiarized. But enough tidbits. The paragraph grows long, and you lust only for the knowledge that I agree with your shitty opinions. Without much more ado, I present to you the only comprehensive and wholly objective year-end list in existence, systematically replicable across hundreds of trials and peer-reviewed by the world’s experts before publication.
(ish): Archspire // The Lucid Collective – A lot of tech-death gets a lot of hate for a lot of good reasons. The Lucid Collective deserves none of it. In a year where the genre produced a lot of sophomore slumps, this album managed to outdo its predecessor along with most of its peers. It’s not quite innovative, but it is excellently executed and enjoyable through and through, which is quite the accomplishment for this young band. If you want a bunch of Canadians to pour golden note-piss all over you, look no further.
#10: Unearth // Watchers of Rule – 2014 is not a year in which metalcore was expected to flourish. After the genre’s 2000s boom and rapid decay, its very name has become a slur. Unearth apparently don’t know that they’re not supposed to be cool anymore and proceeded to release what might be the best straightforward metalcore record of the past five years or more. Watchers of Rule is nonstop aggression and continuous fun delivered by the genre’s most consistent players and writers. It’s infectious, full of excellent riffs and melodies, and devoid of the pop choruses and poorly written breakdowns that have doomed the band’s peers – the sort of music that’s as effective during a frantic all-nighter as it is during a laid-back afternoon.
#9: Nebelung // Palingenesis – Didn’t see this one coming, did you? Well, neither did I, but Palingenesis proved to be the best not-metal album I’ve encountered this year. Deep, brooding and introspective, Nebelung conjure visceral and unmistakable feelings of autumnal forest. For anyone who has walked through graying underbrush across a carpet of sweetly decaying leaves, Palingenesis is an extremely emotional experience.
#8: Fallujah // The Flesh Prevails*- Caveat emptor: this is not the album you think it is. After I raised a ruckus about he Flesh Prevails‘ mastering, producer Zack Ohren kindly delivered a less compressed and much more listenable DR 10 (yeah, it’s that much higher) version of the album to our staff. While he’s right in saying that the difference between the version you’ll get on CD and the version I’ve been listening to since August is not night and day, it’s a huge improvement and makes this brilliant album a joy rather than a chore to spin through. It’s a shame that Fallujah and their label decided on a louder, more compressed version of The Flesh Prevails, but it’s likely that, because of the small but vocal few who voiced their disapproval, they’ll consider taking a different approach for their next album.
#7: Wretched // Cannibal – It’s taken a few years, bit Wretched has finally emerged from their core-doused chrysalis and fluttered off in search of the highest echelons of tech-death. Cannibal makes expectations its playthings, rewarding predictions as often as they defy them. From straightforward thrashy melodeath numbers to blaring post-metal riffs, it traverses the band’s influences and hints at greater things to come. The album is not only one of the year’s most unexpected gems, but simultaneously interesting and incredibly accessible.
#6: Animals as Leaders // The Joy of Motion – I live above 40° N Latitude, which means most of the year the weather gods are intensely focused on releasing their sordid, offensive coldness shits directly into my uncooperative eyes, nose and mouth. In their finite but arbitrarily large wisdom, Tosin Abasi and company decided to cut me and my ilk some slack this year through The Joy of Motion, which simulates summer quite a lot more effectively than any of the expensive lamps we buy in order to survive our sunless abyss.
#5: Indian // From all Purity – There were those (namely, every other contributor for this blog) who laughed at me for insinuating that a noise-doom record released in January was going to make end-of-the-year lists. Let them laugh, I said as I fondled a peromyscus pelvis. And howl and point they did, insisting that this “pabst-core” would be remembered only as an outlet for my own pretentious (and to some, objectifiably verbose) ramblings. They laughed and yet here it is, drenched in feedback and bile, still vicious, still noisy, still fantastic.
#4: Serdce // Timelessness – Before its brutal cred is solidified, this Top Ten(ish) list is allowed one last time to veer into touchy-feely music with pretty melodies and keyboards. And synths. And a saxophone. Timelessness is not only beautiful and emotional, but the best Cynic album that saw release this year (sorry, actual Cynic, but I still love you). It’s relentlessly progressive and unapologetically introspective, packed with as many great riffs as moving melodies. Despite running for over an hour and lifting a piano melody from “Chocolate Rain” this album has seen continuous play in my neck of the woods since summer and it hasn’t tarnished a bit.
#3: Origin // Omnipresent – I loved this album from the moment I got my perverse little hands on it and the attraction hasn’t waned a bit. Omnipresent rushes through what I refuse to believe is a finite number of notes in just over half an hour and thanks to its peerless production sounds more restless, thrilling and alive than any of the sterile, clipped and precision-obsessed wank-sculptures tech-death bands seem so fond of producing. The disc is radioactive, wrapped in razors, and dripping raw sewage, and I check under my pillow every night to make sure it’s still there to keep me company.
#2: Artificial Brain // Labyrinth Constellation – Nearly as aesthetically innovative as their colleagues further down this list, Artificial Brain are 2014’s gift to the metal world. Labyrinth Constellation pummels and permeates, saturating its every second with bizarre, grimy death metal imported from a universe somewhere off to the left. It’s difficult to believe that an album this stunningly mature is a debut, and just as confusing to think that for two years in a row, one of the most innovative records released has been solidly grounded in brutal death. Artificial Brain is headed places, and given their grimy debut, they may not be entirely inviting.
#1: Pyrrhon // The Mother of Virtues – Beyond the shadow of a doubt, The Mother of Virtues is the most unique and important work of extreme metal the year had to offer. Not since Everything is Fire has a death metal album been this ambitious, fearless and challenging; and like Everything is Fire, The Mother of Virtues succeeds on every level. The album is peerless – its bouts of improvisation and cancerous melodies cut to the bone, just as disquieting and seductively hideous as the groaned, screamed and rasped lyrics that beg to be read again and again. The quartet’s performances exemplify passion and artistry, a commitment to making every scraped string, pummeled head and strangled gasp count.
Honorable Mentions (in no particular order):
• Thantifaxath // Sacred White Noise – The next best thing to Dodecahedron, and the only black metal I’ve been observed to actively enjoy this year.
• Sólstafir // Ótta – Beautiful, melancholic but also subtly triumphant – you ótta check this out if you haven’t already.
• Decapitated // Blood Mantra – What I anticipated to be one of the year’s duds turned out to be quite possibly the best album yet from the polish titans.
• Hannes Grossman // The Radial Covenant – otherwise known as Omnivium part II by Obscura & friends.
• Gluttony // Beyond the Veil of Flesh – Seriously stupid, embarrassingly good. Excellent workout music.
• Baring Teeth // Ghost Chorus Among Old Ruins – While it’s not as stunning as its predecessor Atrophy, the Texans’ second offering proves their worth as innovators in death metal.
Disappointments of 2014 (in no particular order):
• Trap Them // Blissfucker – Despite some great cuts, this album was too mid-tempo and tepid to live up to expectations.
• Septicflesh // Titan – With a poor mastering job and much less solid songcraft than The Great Mass, Titan failed to live up to the high expectations set for it.
• Bloodshot Dawn // Demons – The pinnacle of sophomore slumpage, killed by hurriedly-put-together drumming and unneeded flourishes.
Best Thing We Missed Last Year:
• Ovid’s Withering // Scryers of the Ibis – Seriously creative symphonic metal, drawing from death, thrash Greek mythology and even djent to create some of the most epic music out there.
Best Album Cover:
• Horrendous // Ecdysis – Sorry, Fallujah, you gave it a good shot.
Song of the Year:
Pyrrhon // “Invisible Injury” – I’ve probably listened to this song about a hundred times this year and it never gets old. The opening motif haunts and draws you in, keeping you tethered by sneaking back in after every bout of madness, assuring you that there is a method. That method is finally revealed in the last third of the song, when the screaming guitar line returns to usher in the most memorable solo I’ve heard in years. Perfectly constructed, teased and performed, Dylan DiLella’s solo makes excellent use of the brilliantly placed 2/4 pickup bars at the end of each phrase, taking time to artfully shamble and slip through each of them and lift himself and his bandmates back into the groove each time. The solo not only completes the song, but completes the album, the initial, hidden moment of brilliance that doesn’t unlock, but proves the existence of keys for the rest of The Mother of Virtues.