steel druhmAs I walk through the valley where I harvest my grain, I take a look at my list and realize it’s very plain. Barring an oddity or two, this feels like the most predictable list I’ve assembled since joining the AMG crusade. I can’t even blame 2014, since it was a decent if not amazing year for metal during which we all learned to enjoy of deep sadness and worship at the altar of the all-seeing Sphere of I-ruhn.

Most of my AMG brethren have compiled more outlandish and quirky lists than I, thereby making me feel even more the crusty curmudgeon of the staff, forever stuck listening to Frank Sinatra while everyone else rocks out to Devo with plastic flower pots adorning their post-modern heads. Oh well, someone has to be the bastion of metallic sensibility and refined tastes, so it might as well be your beloved Steelness.

As always, thanks must go to all our loyal readers for making AMG such a pleasure to write, edit and bleed for. Hell, even our disloyal readers are pretty respectable and praiseworthy. Whatever your reader status, thanks for your support and we’ll see you all in 2015. Now get off my damn lawn and get a haircut, you trend whoring mall bitches!

Nightsatan_Nightsatan and the Loops of Doom(ish) Nightsatan // Nightsatan and the Loops of Doom – This is the cheesy synth soundtrack to every Grade Z post-apocalyptic sci-fi flick released from 1975 through 1987, but I couldn’t stop listening to it. Every spin conjures images of blasted cities, cannibalistic mutants and buxom babes in leather undies. If you like that kind of stuff, this is a ridiculously catchy score to a movie that exists only in your warped little mind. My mental movie is called Blast Radius Bloodbath, starring Steel “Justice” Druhm. What’s yours?

Blackfinger_Blackfinger#10. Blackfinger // Blackfinger – For those who grew up worshipping 80s doom, Eric Wagner was the one-of-a-kind voice of the legendary Trouble and without him, they just aren’t the same band at all. That may be why it’s so great to hear from him again, now rocking a more introspective variation on his Trouble-d days of old, with his love of The Beatles and 60s rock front and center. Blackfinger is moody, intimate and solemn, Eric sounds as good as ever and there’s a nicely diverse collection of styles and emotions on display here. Nostalgia, here is thy sting.

THE SKULL_For_Those_Which_Are_Asleep_COVER#9. The Skull // For Those Which Are Asleep – Speaking of Trouble and nostalgia, Wagner returns with his other band to completely poach, pillage and ransack his former unit’s vintage sound for his own selfish ends, and yes, The Skull does it far better than the current incarnation of Trouble. This sounds like the album that could have come after Run to the Light and before their eponymous platter, and everything you once loved about those doom pioneers is here in rich shades of grey and other grey. Wagner for the Double Trouble win in 2014!

Vyrion_Geo#8. Vyrion // Geo – Australia’s best kept secret remains under the radar despite releasing crackingly atmospheric and progressive black metal. Geo takes the elements that made their debut so successful and expands on the core vision, fusing traditional black metal ideas with post-rock, blackened death and classic heavy metal. Sure, there are traces of Agalloch to be found, but this is progressive in a much different way and far more suffocating and oppressive than anything those artsy wood gnomes ever did. When, oh when will people pay attention to these downers from down under?

Death-Penalty-Death Penalty#7. Death Penalty // Death Penalty – Despite the fact that this is the new project of former Cathedral riff master Gaz Jennings, this rocking mix of doom and NWoBHM got shockingly little buzz or press this year. That’s a shame, because this is a really well done and infectious blend of styles and genres and for the first time in his career, Gaz’s mighty riffs are teamed with a vocalist who can actually sing. Think of the possibilities and prepare for a burly throwback to the simpler days of Witchfinder General and Pentagram.

Stitched Panorama#6. Castle // Under Siege – The Lords of the Vest return with their third superb album in a row, mixing occult rock with 70s hippie culture and a sizeable dose of “true metal” like Cirith Ungol and Manilla Road. Though the whole “occult vestment” style is getting overdone, Castle sits above the fray, easily outclassing their contemporaries with superior song writing and a talent for ambiance, mood and hooks. Equally suitable for cultish brainwashing and quiet evenings at home.

threshold-for-the-journey#5. Threshold // For the JourneyThreshold continues their stellar recovery from the death of long time singer Andy “Mac” McDermott with the second album helmed by Damien Wilson. It’s more slick, highly polished prog for those who prefer their prog with actual songs. Forget those Dream Theater wank-fests, these guys only wank in the small gaps inside well structured and accessible tunes and that makes all the difference. Top-notch writing and amazing musicianship make Threshold the kings of non-obnoxious prog-metal.

RIOT_Unleash the Fire#4. Riot V // Unleash the Fire – Don’t look now but Johnny’s back again. Somehow surviving the death of founder and guitar virtuoso Mark Reale and the defection of vocalist Tony Moore, Riot lives on as Riot V and Unleash the Fire provides an unexpectedly great companion piece to classics like Thundersteel and Immortal Soul with all the elements long time fans hunger for. Old school American power metal rarely sounded this good and addicting. This is the feel good album of the year because you know Mark Reale is looking down and smiling upon it. R.I.P.

Audrey Horne - Pure Heavy3. Audrey Horne // Pure Heavy – There’s something completely irresistible about the kind of hard rock and metal these cats traffic in. Despite roots in much heavier bands, this odd collective has such a genuine knack for writing sweater snagging, mind numbing rock, it’s a wonder they don’t scrap their main gigs and make a play at big time radio fame. Pure Heavy is the album you’d get if Bon Scott Jammed with members of Thin Lizzy, Iron Maiden and Van Halen, and if that doesn’t work for you, perhaps it’s time for a forensic autopsy. Party rock with serious attitude and chops.

Dawnbringer_Night of the Hammer#2. Dawnbringer // Night of the Hammer – Chris Black has been impressing me more with every Dawnbringer release and Night of the Hammer keeps the momentum moving forward with a strange and unusual collection of songs. There’s a lot of Blue Oyster Cult weirdness here and plenty of proto-doom as well, and though it’s not as immediate as prior albums, it may be deeper and more penetrating. This is a unique little gem and it’s difficult to describe or put into words exactly what makes it so compelling; it just is. Haunting stuff.

#1. Darkest Era // Severance – What do you get when you seamlessly blend Primordial, Immortal, Candlemass and Thin Lizzy? Album o’ the Year, that’s what. No 2014 platter caught me quite as off guard as Severance did and none left as big of an impression. The way the band blends disparate genres and influences is impressive and the quality of the song craft is outstanding. From Krum’s rich vocals to the all over the map guitar work, the writing is just quirky enough to hold you captive, but it’s the staying power of the songs that wins the day. This thing got played to death and I spent so much time selling it to others that I should have delivered the motivational speech in Glengarry, Glen Ross. As close to perfect as 2014 got and I can’t wait to hear what they do next.

Darkest Era_Severance

Honorable Mention: (in no particular order or disorder)

  • Overkill // White Devil Armory  – The feistiest dose of New Jersey knuckle sandwich to come out in forever
  • Brainstorm // Firesoul – The best piece of power metal this year featured 20 lbs. of extra testicle
  • Fallujah // The Flesh Prevails – Only with the DR 10 version did the album’s beauty truly reach me
  • Horrendous //Ecdysis – Easily the best “old school” death platter this year
  • Mike Lepond // Silent Assassins – To get more old school than this, you’d have to invent the word “school”
  • Pallbearer // Foundations of Burden – A victim of over hype perhaps, but a rich dose of doom nonetheless
  • Morbus Chron // Sweven – A weird, clusterfucky mess of death, black and traditional metal with that alternates between brilliant and insane
  • Autumnal // The End of the Third Day – A slab of gloomy doom that just kept growing and growing on me
  • High Spirits // You Are Here – The other thing Chris Black did well this year was rocking your socks
  • DoomVS // Earthless – some of the most emotional doom of the year, full of exquisitely beautiful melodies

Biggest Disappointments:

  • Agalloch // Serpent and the Sphere  – Even a nifty sphere couldn’t save this art house conceptual piece
  • Judas Priest // Redeemer of Souls  – Indicative that the time is nigh to hang up thy mighty chaps

Worst Song Title: Decaying‘s “Frequent Wind”

Worst AMG Moment: Having our reviews stolen and passed off as someone else’s by a seventh-rate Spanish language webpage.

Most Anticipated Album of 2015: Jorn o’ Claus doing an Operation: Dracula concept album, and pretty much anything else from our favorite Jornish game hen.

Song o’ the Year: Autumnal – “A Tear from a Beast”