In 2008, the duo of Dan Barrett and Tim Macuga released what is now a classic drone metal record, Deathconsciousness. The six years following that release felt fitting as the themes and murky instrumentals required time to recover. The Unnatural World came out at the perfect time, even if it lacks the overall doom and gloom that ripped the souls out of fans in the past. Being 45 minutes shorter and a bit less ambitious were slight complaints that dragged the album to the honorable mention listing, but it’s still a powerhouse record. Songs like “Cropsey” and “Guggenheim Wax Museum” are just as creepy as one might expect, and the duo even pull off a prefect post-punk rock track in “Defenestration Song” as well.
One of the few gold marks for mainstream music this year was the unexpected beauty of Hozier. Most people will remember Andrew Hozier-Byrne for the breakout hit “Take Me To Church”, but there are many deeper songs to dive into on the album as well. Speaking on the themes of hypocrisy in religion, struggling to survive, and even the afterlife proved to be a strong suit. “From Eden” and “Take Me to Church” show that he has the knowledge to challenge these major themes, but “Jackie and Wilson” show a lighter heart and family man hidden inside his soul as well. This debut record shows that he has the writing chops to become a force of nature, but for talent and not just sex appeal.
This sludge and death metal female trio create one of the best metal fusions of 2014 with Cursed to See the Future. If one ever wondered what Darkthrone and High on Fire would sound like mixed together, look no further than Mortals. The pure fire and gross textures constantly evolving over the 47 minutes of hell that the trio create are nothing short of exhausting and painful. Which is what these two genres call for, a feeling of being stuck in quicksand while slowly fading into a cursed existence. There is no real reason not to listen to this record if you are an extreme metal fan, so just do it.
Despite only being a major player for Relapse Records over the past two years, Nothing are something to behold. Alternative Rock has needed this strong of a kick in the pants for a long time, and they may just be a savior for the genre along with Whirr. Dominic Palermo and company create one of the most numbing dream worlds of any album this year. Utilizing soothing and almost monotone vocals over guitars that ride the line between simple rock and shoegaze prove to be all too natural for the four-piece act. “Hymn To The Pillory” kicks off the album with just enough energy to keep listeners interested until Nothing decide to use heavy contrast with massive riffs that hit the listener with left hooks throughout with nearly perfect timing.
Spoon were one of the exceptions for mainstream rock in 2014. After a four year break, the five-man band out of Austin, Texas released what may be the best new wave album in ages. Spoon always find a way to balance incredibly catchy hooks with a surprisingly original sound that is hard to find these days. Despite sticking to comfortable themes of being insecure and relationships, they pave just enough curves in the path to consistently surprise listeners with either a chilling note or overly happy one. The noise rock elements of “Knock Knock Knock” will always send chills up my spine, while “Rent I Pay” will make me want to dance around like a defiant teen with no worries.
Post-metal and shoegaze are two of the most difficult genres to sound convincing on in music. If you don’t quite throw enough relaxed nature to the sound, it can come off too rushed and uneven. Thom Wasluck has an incredible skill to mesh both together with obvious ease. The guitars on Desideratum are distant but heavy enough to leave a lasting impression of sadness. The drums pump just enough life into each track to let the listener survive through the depression they are taking in. Few songs this year will feel as authentic and effective with sparse creepiness than “Where You Rest Your Head At Night.” Nothing about the record feels fake or comfortable, instead Wasluck forces a listener to know what a bad breakup feels like whether they want the experience or not.
The Body have always been a hard band for many people to get into on their own. Chip King and Lee Buford are masters at creating a certain level of mood to their music, but the sounds become too stale at moments, which you cannot afford with avant-garde sludge metal. The decision to add The Haxan Cloak to the mix proved to be a brilliant one, giving the duo a mix of electronics that make each track a living and breathing nightmare. Both artists have a certain feeling of dread that surprisingly come together without a hitch, especially with themes of suicide and feeling helpless. “Alone All the Way” has one of the best vocal samples utilized all year with a timely and interesting take on the act of suicide, while The Body add an instrumental with powerful drums and buzzing riffs that require deep investigation.
Music is always interesting therapy for some artists who create it, whether it be for anger or just needing to grow and move forward. The Isolation Tapes is easily the most chilling and empowering album of the year for the fragile nature of it. This three piece act led by Lachlan R. Dale features one of the most authentic sets of songs that I have ever listened to. Every sequence of lyrics has a distinct purpose and the small instrumentation makes the listener feel like the artists could be in their back yard. “A New Man” is specifically special, speaking toward opening yourself open and stitching up the wound in a desperate act to become a better person instead of a bitter one. This is a lesson that has been utilized throughout the history of music, but this time it seems real for once.
Alternative rock music gets another nod on the article with the amazing new Whirr record. Despite possessing a similar vocal style to Dominic Palermo(Nothing), Whirr use subtle differences to bring something else interesting to the table. Sway has more moments of sheer beauty that can be compared to the likes of early Smashing Pumpkins, but they have much more to offer as well. The weight of the more concise lyrics and changing tempos leave a listener guessing at all points, never knowing when a track will slow down, speed up, or turn up the instrumentation to beat them up a bit. The bag of tricks are never predictable on Sway, which is a good thing for a band that utilizes shoegaze as a major influence.
Relapse make another entry with doom and sludge powerhouse Indian. To say that Indian is just a sludge and doom metal act would be incorrect though. They obviously bring the pain with riffs that would make any extreme act jealous, but the element of noise makes every shrill track that much more effective. The heavy coats of reverberation on the guitars make each track feel like running through a grimy pool, while the vocals and noise add a layer of intensity as if you are being chased by a chainsaw wielding villain. Indian are exactly what doom metal fans should expect from the genre, no jokes or frills. From All Purity is pure filth and terror in every sense of the words, and they should be damn proud of it.
Nic and Old Soul are two smaller post-hardcore and atmospheric metal acts from very different sections of the globe. Nic hail from the Czech Republic while Old Soul create music out of Michigan. Aside from both claiming homes that are cold, their music is fairly similar as well. Both are practitioners of shoegaze, black metal, and post-hardcore music. Old Soul’s side of the split has a bit more hope and energy, using incredible atmosphere and powerhouse riffs to keep the listener on edge throughout. Even though their first three records are great, this split shows a new progression for them. “Emerald” is as epic as any track this year and really shows off what the genres are all about. Nic are much less interested in sounding clean and pretty, relying on heavy feedback and fuzz to set a decidedly darker set of tracks. The slight use of drone and destructive guitars sets a sound bar that is hard to reach for cleaner post-hardcore and black metal acts. If you are into black metal fusion acts, there are no better splits available than this masterwork.
Doom metal had a very impressive 2014, with Temple of Void taking the award for best entry in the genre. All of the basic staples necessary for Doom metal are here. The guitars are loud, the drums are incredibly heavy, and the vocals are downtrodden and mysterious. The big difference between Temple of Void and other acts this year though is the production. Although there are some more atmospheric and gritty moments, the production is relatively clean to allow the album to have a certain heft. It’s like smelling the rotten corpses but being able to look at them strewn perfectly as if they are arranged for an art exhibit.
Hardcore and grind music have a new ruler, which is the Australian powerhouse Idylls. Managing to mix elements of hardcore and at times more traditional forms of heavy music are almost too easy for the group. Despite having too many short tracks that should drag the record down a notch, every moment is filled with blistering riffs and unbearable instrumental fills that never let the listener take a breather. “PCP Crazy” mixes itself perfectly into the middle as a slight reprieve from the guttural attack with a classic hardcore track that will give listeners flashbacks to Suicidal Tendencies. Prayer For Terrene is not just a look into the past of hardcore music, it is also a major step forward for a genre that needs a major kick in the teeth.
When a guitarist from Deafheaven takes a leap into the music world with a black metal EP, it is pretty hard to ignore. Gary Bettencourt creates the most disturbing but surprisingly beautiful black metal EP of the year by stripping back to what makes the genre such an interesting entity. Most songs have some level of ingenuity by utilizing various tempo changes or elements of sound samples, but the forceful riffs are the base and catalyst to drive everything forward. The chameleon song writing shows that not only can Bettencourt write a pretty song with plenty of atmosphere but also a thrash-inspired anthem like “Victims & Hangmen.” The Versatility of Black Monolith is truly astounding, and the world direly needs a full-length album from Bettencourt in the future.
Michael Gira and company came back in 2010 with My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky, their first studio album since a public breakup in 1996. Despite the record being a bit disappointing for hardcore fans of the experimental act, it was a sign that good things were on the way. The Seer saw much more critical success, making many top ten lists in 2012. Like clockwork, To Be Kind came out two years later to become their best and most ambitious album to date. Having an imposing 121 minute running time and massive 34 minute fourth track, To Be Kind is anything but subtle. The instrumentals are constantly building to an epic finish, Gira puts on some of the most strangely astounding vocal performances of his career, and every song is a worthwhile journey into a pristine abyss. At times the album is offensively gross with sexual tones, but also features beautiful tracks like “Nathalie Neal” about what seems to be a lovely human being. The drop dead moment of the album is allowing “Oxygen” to drive you wild with an empowering sense of not being able to catch your breath as well. To Be Kind is simply one of the greatest albums that I have ever listened to, and should get a spin from any experimental music fan.