Another year, another Top 10(ish) list. I’ve not written much for AMG this year, as some of you have noticed, and I kept a healthy distance from the “scene” in general. Rather than devote my time to high-profile, overhyped albums, I’ve pretty much listened to new music that I actually liked, and ignored everything else. As a result, this list is probably weird as hell.
Oh, and if you’re wondering why a particular album didn’t make the cut, it’s probably because I thought it sucked. Without further ado…
#ish. Wovenhand // Refractory Obdurate – Yes, you’re still at Angry Metal Guy, and not Pitchfork or some such bullshit. And although it puts me in some unsavory company, you can count me among those who enjoyed David Eugene Edwards’ latest foray into vaguely sinister twang rock. To these ears, it sounds like a cross between The Cult and an actual cult, if that makes any sense. It’s creepy, it rocks, and I like it.
#10. Body Count // Manslaughter – Ice-T and co. make a push for legitimacy with their long-awaited 5th album. Manslaughter finally gets Body Count up to modern standards of playing and production, while still containing enough gonzo Sabbath-meets-Bad Brains riffage and ridiculous lyrics to entertain old-school fans. Yes, there’s a few unfortunate nods to newer, more “extreme” styles, but BC also shows respect to the old-school, including a bizarre interpretation of Suicidal Tendencies‘ “Institutionalized.” Overall, Manslaughter is a worthy comeback, and I’m sure D-Rock, Beatmaster V and Mooseman are up there smiling down on their former bandmates.
#9. KXM // KXM – In the six years since prog legends King’s X last released an album, vocalist/bassist Doug Pinnick has indulged in a variety of projects, most of which sound like half-assed versions of his main band. KXM finally pairs him up with bandmates that can hold their own: guitar samurai George Lynch (Dokken) and drummer Ray Luzier (yes, the fucking guy from Korn). The result is a collection of damn good rock music, able to stand alongside any of these guys’ main bands, while also having its own identity. As a King’s X comeback seems increasingly unlikely, KXM helps to fill the void.
#8. Stargazer // A Merging to the Boundless – This one’s a super-last minute addition to my list, as I was unaware of this Australian trio until very recently. However, Merging is one of the most fascinating things I’ve heard all year. It’s relentlessly progressive and convoluted, with virtuoso musicianship and tenuous links to old-school metal. I wouldn’t even know what to compare it to, although I hear traces of Voivod‘s weirdness and the pure evil of early Morbid Angel. Bonus points are awarded for excellent (and audible!) bass work, as well as a raw yet crystal-clear mix.
#7. Tie: Crowbar // Symmetry In Black, Overkill // White Devil Armory – Boy, I’m sure glad (insert name of band) is back. With their first album since (last year/the year before that), these guys have delivered a slab of (insert adjective here) metal that stands up against their masterpieces from the (1980s/1990s). It may not be as vital as (Odd Fellows Rest/WFO), but there’s something to be said for consistency, and this band can always be counted on for some (raging thrash metal / crushing sludge).
#6. Dawnbringer // Night Of The Hammer – Chris Black has been on a fucking roll in recent years with a stream of consistently solid output from both Dawnbringer and his more upbeat High Spirits project. Hammer is a bit slower and doomier than 2012’s Into The Lair Of The Sun God, revealing Black’s love of Dehumanizer-era Black Sabbath and/or a mild case of depression. Black is one of the few real songwriters in present-day metal, and Hammer is another excellent batch of the blackened classic metal that is his trademark.
#5. The Skull // For Those Which Are Asleep – Years after most people had written off Chicago doom legends Trouble, this splinter group seized the opportunity and delivered a shockingly good comeback. The Skull‘s debut is a thick slab of old-school doom, referencing Trouble, Pentagram, and of course the almighty Sabbath. Production by the legendary Billy Anderson doesn’t hurt either. I’m amazed this record even exists, and pleasantly surprised that it’s as good as it is.
#4. Misery Index // The Killing Gods – After a longer-than-usual break, these Baltimore death merchants return with their fifth and most ambitious album. While rarely given credit for it, Misery Index have subtly refined and evolved their sound over the years, while remaining righteously pissed off and almost impossibly heavy. The Killing Gods continues that growth, pulling in enough diverse influences and epic structures to create a level of depth not typically heard in the genre.
#3. Opeth // Pale Communion – Opeth doubles down on the direction they pursued on Heritage, to the dismay of many, Fortunately, Pale Communion makes a more compelling case for Opeth-as-’70s-prog-band than its predecessor, mostly due to being more focused and containing better songs (funny how that works). Songs like “Moon Above, Sun Below” and “Faith in Others” prove that Opeth‘s stylistic overhaul can indeed yield compelling results.
#2. He Is Legend // Heavy Fruit – I don’t even know what the fuck to call this, other than “that album that never left my car stereo.” North Carolina’s He Is Legend returns from a short hiatus with an album of heavy, catchy, densely layered rock goodness. Heavy Fruit is similar in intent to its predecessor, 2009’s excellent It Hates You, but with an even more adventurous approach musically. Furthermore, I nominate the track “Be Easy” for my 2014 Riff Of The Year®.
#1. Death // Symbolic – No, Symbolic wasn’t reissued in 2014, and no, this isn’t a joke. As a symbolic gesture (pun intended), I am giving the #1 spot to an album that represents everything great about heavy metal. Symbolic is a gimmick-free platter of top-shelf riffs, excellent musicianship, and memorable, well-written songs. It’s not commercial, but it doesn’t neatly fit in a niche or subgenre either — it transcends those labels. It’s the kind of album that old-schoolers could rage to, yet it could also serve as a 14-year-old kid’s entry into the metal underground, even today. These are all qualities I expect an Album Of The Year to possess, and in my eyes, no one in the class of ’14 quite pulled it off. I suppose I could’ve named other records — Ride The Lightning, Reign In Blood, etc — and made my point, but you get the idea. So I am leaving this here as a reminder of metal music’s potential. This is the standard we’re held to. Always.
Honorable Mentions (in no particular order):
Jar’d Loose // Turns 13
Triptykon // Melana Chasmata
Bob Mould // Beauty & Ruin
Failure // 2 singles: “Come Crashing” and “The Focus”