2014 has been an incredibly effective year for those up-and -coming bands who, once found themselves rooting somewhere in the underground, are now relatively successful with whichever direction they originally chose to follow. Sure, the year heralds some of the biggest, most anticipated metal comebacks of the last two decades (Slipknot, At the Gates, Devin Townsend,etc.), but 2014 has been much more of a hotbed for the likes of England’s punk/mathcore-fuelled youngsters Marmozets and the international blues/soul sweethearts in Blues Pills. Of course, anybody who respects metal’s darkest corners will have seen a dramatic boost in the likes of Suicide Silence and Behemoth, two bands which before the turn of this particular year had obviously drawn in as much of a tragic problem as one could get: The former having lost their vocalist at the supposed height of their career, the latter halting progress halfway through 2013 due to the frontman’s unexpected leukaemia diagnosis and literally, having the book thrown at him moments after in court, to which he successfully passed with no charges whatsoever. And so if anything, 2014 is merely a year which will see both the more mainstream-leaning acts and the newbies to the scene storm progressively bigger stages, and already as I write this, worthwhile musicians are being added to Download, Glastonbury, Bloodstock,etc. As much as 2014 was a grand year for music, we should really be looking forward to what 2015 has in stock for us. With all that said, here is my personal top 10, each album either a real career-definer or one which has influenced and perpetuated my passion for music evermore.
10. Ne Obliviscaris – Citadel
Anyone having kept their eye on the current rise of international progressive metal should have at least heard of this Australian extreme prog act. Making waves with their debut, the sinister “Potal of I”, Ne Obliviscaris have seemingly gone from strength to strength with both their musical and live output, and they’re only two albums in! Yet “Citadel”, a striking and malevolent successor to the band’s debut, ticks all the right boxes and somehow gives you more than you were wanting or even expecting. Six songs, three of which almost surpass the ten-minute mark, mould delicate violin-led compositions with aggressive, belligerent extreme metal passages and the end result is simply excellent. Whilst in all honesty it does take a little more than a few listens to truly experience the album’s greatest keypoints (‘Triptych Lux’ is a prime example of this), “Citadel” simply proves that Ne Obliviscaris are set their a grand, ambitious future. Long may they reign.
9. Overkill – White Devil Armory
For fans of the more extreme side of metal, Overkill’s latest album “White Devil Armory” couldn’t have been more anticipated. This is the sort of album which, at first, one thinks will be a disappointing act of average musicianship, and then when the likes of ‘Armorist’ bashes your eardrums with those powerhouse riffs and that thunderous, fist-in-the-air drum rhythm, you’re suddenly wondering why you ever doubted Overkill could show the youngsters how it was done. Sure, originality doesn’t take a particularly prominent role here, but it more than makes up for that with a consistent, fluent set of tracks which all manage to complement each other before acts of relentless headbanging occur. That said, it’s certainly proof that Overkill are up with there with the very best of the sub-genre.
8. Necrophagia – White Worm Cathedral
That cover of frontman Killjoy rising from the grave, backed by a satanic mass and a witch conjuring the dead. That opening song, with its dreadfully intoxicating horror and malevolent groove. That sense that you know Necrophagia have lived up to their 34 year-career with an album which blows most others out the water (with the exception of “Season of the Dead”). Yes, Necrophagia struck back a couple of months ago with new album “White Worm Cathedral”, and yes, it is most definitiely devilishly good. You always knew it was going to be something special, because every Necrophagia album always manages to impress, or at least meet expectations. Horror-inflected death metal is the order of the day, and we get it here by the big fat bucketload. ‘Angel Blake’. The title track. ‘Rat Witch’. All these and more paying homages to the deepest, darkest corners of horror’s evil past, and tightly wound up in a 50-minute album where it’s hard not to press repeat just for fun. Necrophagia prove once again that nobody can do it like they do.
7. Triptykon – Melana Chasmata
RIP H.R.Giger. For if that excellent artist had passed away any sooner, then the album art that you see before you when playing Triptykon’s second album, “Melana Chasmata” would not exist. That album cover practically summarises and reflects not only what music you’re bound to hear, but also what the extreme metal legend Thomas Gabriel Fischer was feeling during the production of the band’s sophomore effort. One thing’s for sure then. If Giger enjoyed music as dark and as soul-destroying as his own artwork was, then he would have praised “Melana Chasmata” upon first listen as a masterwork. And so, Triptykon channel death, disturbing imagery and intoxicating depression through the medium of a ecstatic amalgamation of extreme metal, angelic female vocals and Fischer suffocating vocal delivery. “Tree of suffocating Souls”, “Boleskine House”, “Breathing” are but three songs which have this fusion at the forefront of the musicianship, and so when you consider the album as a whole, it really does reflect moments of emotional rage which all of us can perhaps relate to. That said, it’s a marvellous sophomore effort which Fischer et al should be proud of.
6. Black Anvil – Hail Death
When you consider that Black Anvil originally started as an underground hardcore act in their native city of New York, it’s hardly surprising that the band’s latest album, “Hail Death” feels so raw and primitive. Yet that’s exactly why it succeeds where it should fail. Because “Hail Death” is every bit as sinister and menacing as the band make it out to be. That statement isn’t there to put you off however. Whilst much of the record is entranced in a fusion of hellish trad-metal influences and extreme musicianship, there’s also the soul-clenching emotional edge which comes about every time each member of the band decides to prove clean vocals can be a positive boon in no-frills extreme metal. It may shake off the idea that the band are idealistically as straightforward as one would expect, but it just works to the band’s advantage. Songs such as eccentric opener “Still Reborn”, “Redemption through Blood” and “My Hate is Pure” all collaborate to a solid, consistent extreme metal album which Black Anvil should definitely be proud of, as much so as they are of their own particular influences.
5. Aeon Zen – Ephemera
You can practically name any prog metal band who isn’t Dream Theater, Animals as Leaders or anything to do with Devin Townsend underrated, but Aeon Zen certainly deserve that description more than most others would, and especially because the band’s fourth effort is so indulgent (not self-indulgent either, believe it or not). The band have been around for almost a decade now, but it’s really only with “Ephemera” that you can consider there future as a bright one. Whilst the band aren’t particularly looking to hit the big stage anytime soon, there’s a feeling that they really should be spamming any prog metal fan’s album by now, and “Ephemera” is just the album to kick that idea into action. An album which brims with confidence, majesty and more than a few outside influence from around the metal field (namely the symphonic black metal edge of “Life?” and “Unite”), is one that Aeon Zen must have had in mind from the very start, and its fusion of sonically lilting melodies and extreme aggression is an energetic boost, contributing to an album which proves Aeon Zen are among the best European prog metal bands out there today.
4. Xerath – III
Third time lucky is what this album is all about, and essentially what Xerath were hoping to achieve when they produced and recorded it. Like Aeon Zen’s latest effort, “III” brims with confidence from the very start but is somewhat more extreme and symphonic than its two predecessors. Recently in an interview with Metal Hammer, all members of Xerath admitted that they would like a future album to be based wholly around a concept, and which would include a bigger and brighter future than they originally planned. “III” is most definitely the gateway to that future, because of its eccentric musicianship and a focus on breathtaking musical tone. Songs such as “2053”, “I hunt for the weak” and the epic two part “Veil” are big and bright enough to take Xerath on the road to a much more successful career, musically fusing their symphonic, conceptual ideas with extreme musicianship and giving us the best they can.
3. Pallbearer – Foundations of Burden
Pallbearer is not merely a doom metal band. Somehow, they are more of a transcendent, heavenly object which uses doom metal to keep everybody down to earth.
No but seriously.
“Foundations of Burden” is all you need to understand just how vast and spiritual Pallbearer’s music tends to be. Following on from their surprisingly intense debut effort in “Sorrow and Extinction”, the band have stepped up in almost every aspect of their own sound, and the result is just glorious. When you consider that doom metal is really only the base, like the sponge of a multi-layered, multi-iced, multi-spiced cake (Take a little slice at a time, too much will make one mad), everything else actually works both in its own way and as a successful contribution to Pallbearer’s many objects hidden in their own Pandora’s box. “The Ghost I used to be” and “Foundations”, with lilting soundscapes and dramatic vocal delivery, are so sorrowful that they can conjure conflicting emotions from the darkest corners of a human soul. Soul-wrenching musicianship intertwines with a knack for indulgent, ghostly vibes which, as the album progresses, seems to take you on a journey rather than let you sit in your own comfort zone. As exaggerated as this description may appear, Pallbearer’s sophomore effort is a career-defining effort, and they haven’t even been around for that long.
2. While Heaven wept – Suspended at Aphelion
While Heaven Wept have waited a quarter of a century to release “Suspended at Aphelion”, and the end result is more surprising when you consider the band started out as a doom metal act. It’s obvious they have turned that particular beginning upside down however, because “Suspended at Aphelion” really is a glorious piece of music. They have used whichever minor flaws plagued the last album and somehow turned them into positives, and so the musicianship here naturally takes a prominent role. The band show their passion for lilting prog metal and a penchant for epic, dramatic soundscapes here in spades, something which probably wouldn’t have happened had they kept their doom metal edge. Like Xerath’s “III” and Aeon Zen’s “Ephemera”, there is a great deal of hidden aggression here, and this is obvious throughout the likes of ‘Icarus and I’ and the grandiose ‘Heartburst’, two songs which ar eprime examples of the band’s new direction. You can’t quite get away from the heavenly imagery or the majestic concept as the album progresses, but this is part and parcel of a new path to career-defining victory. “Suspended at Aphelion” succeeds with outstretched wings and is the stairway to glory for While Heaven Wept.
1. The Great Old Ones – Tekeli-Li
It’s quite a task to take on when a band decides to base their album around a work of art or literature. It’s probably even harder when a band decides to base their entire musical career around the works of one particular write, but alas, that is why French progressive black metal group The Great Old Ones exist, and more to the point, how indeed they are so unique. As if the band’s debut didn’t convince you enough, sophomore effort “Tekeli-Li” is a striking, invigorating release which is among the best black metal albums of the last few years. The journey that this album takes you on is extravagant from start to finish, from the crushing, fear-inducing horror of ‘Antarctica’ to the closing, majestic moments of ‘Behind the Mountains’, and every little breathtaking moment in between. The sweeping grandeur of those elegant riffs and sonically menacing guitar lines provides the backbone of what is the ideal soundtrack to an uncannily hellish nightmare, albeit one which has strings pulled by Lovecraft every single time you take a step forward. “Tekeli-Li” is grandiose not only in concept, but musicianship too, as the mostly lengthy nature of each track (bar the dreamy intro) seems to spin you into another dimension completely. Even if this wasn’t ever based around Lovecraftian literature, it would still work, and that’s why the band’s sophomore effort is more career-defining than it is progressive. If at all Lovecraft listened to metal, this (and perhaps “Melana Chasmata”) would be his ideal soundtrack to a stroll through the dark, decaying corners of life.