Anso DF’s Top Fifteen Metal Albums of 2014
Remember the scene in that movie High Fidelity in which an elitist music guy in Chicago ponders the chronology of his vibe’s relationship to his music? He asks if his interest in records and his repeated exposure to their messages of heartbreak and inadequacy have led him to misery. Or did it happen in the opposite order, that he connects with music about failure because he’s a failure? Does he seek to align himself with his most admired musicians via self-sabotage, or is it that they teach him about himself? That’s the question for each of us as we scope our lists of metal’s best albums from 2014. Is it that hateful black metal took a year off, or that we could only bear to be serenaded by crafty melodists? Is our attention span such that 2014 metal must stick to the script or risk losing us, or that metal’s most challenging albums represent a movement’s last gasp before a rebirth? Were we more blue than mad, or was it that punching the wall more often achieved less than cuddling with a couple blondes?
It’s on my Best Metal Memories of 2014 list: Discussing Babymetal on the MetalSucks podcast, hosts Chuck and Godless agreed that they had arrived at their “acceptance stage” of the weird scenario of three teens who don’t speak English chirping along out front of an extreme metal quartet like three birds perched on a dumptruck. Still,Godless rushed to point out that if he attends a Babymetal show, he will keep to the shadows as a way to preserve his dignity. I laughed about that discussion then — and then laughed bitterly once I got into Benighted’s irreverent deathcore epic Carnivore Sublime, for like Godless with Babymetal, I’d be forced to attend a nearby Benighted show cuz they rip but holy shit I’d disguise myself as an Ebola-stricken cop.
Listen: “Collection Of Dead Portraits”
It seemed that it was only five minutes after we discovered The Oath that we were mourning their break-up. From their announcement, we might figure that their split came before their awesome debut arrived. We might conclude that the lack of explanation implies its sensitive nature, so then it’s a decent guess that The Oath’s end is a consequence of the end of the relationship between its two members. We could keep extrapolating, but for now it’s bummer enough to consider that their debut album has been orphaned — let’s not torture ourselves with the image of this duo’s falling-out and its probable hair-pulling.
But the future’s still bright for fans of heavy riffs and snappy hooks: Not even counting the prospect of new albums by Torche, Faith No More, and Black Sabbath, the tally of these gems is already high. Among the heaviest of 2014’s life-awesomening crop, Death Penalty’s debut matches The Oath’s vibe of shimmery vocals atop immaculately plotted riffs, but their bulldozer is driven with thrust in place of The Oath’s ennui, like if Sabbath’s next album were produced by Eric Peterson of Testament. Wow actually let’s make that happen.
There was a year or two when events conspired to taint the band name “Anthrax.” That must’ve sucked for the band, cuz crazy random chemical terror attacks were a huge news item then and real anthrax is horrifying. If in 2014 there was a legit band called Cosby, they’d be fucked likewise. And they’d both be envious of a band called Comet Control and their lead single “Blast Magic” in a year in which a metalhead landed a probe a million miles from here on a hurtling space rock. That’s some sweet synergy. Maybe it’ll happen again next year for a metal band called AIDS Cure.
Listen: “Blast Magic”
On paper, Menace might not seem promising: Napalm Death guitarist does Digimortal-era Fear Factory. That’s a tough sell. But in reality, it’s a Cynic/Voivod collaboration produced by Bob Rock and Ken Andrews: Bombastic sad-robot metal with superhooks and the airspace of a canyon. A soundtrack for standing in the center of a rush hour crush at Tokyo Station. Three more please, Mitch Harris.
Listen: “Multiple Clarity”
It’s possible that the indefinable element found in masterpieces (and noticeably absent in duds) is a kind of desperation, an awareness by its creators that something great is at stake. The term masterpiece might not apply to Worship Death by Eskhaton — it probably does — yet it is definitely defined by that type of force. It sounds like an album recorded in the last days before the known arrival of a continent-smashing comet. In other words, the authors of Worship Death really, really wanted to express this shit to us, this shit has meaning. I mean fuck, you know an album is real when its little instrumentals give you a panic attack!
Listen: “Dark Era”
I’m told that in the sport of baseball, a batter can opt “take a ball.” Doing so benefits him, punishes the pitcher, and also might set up an advantage on the next pitch. In fact, that taken ball could put him on base. Anyway, that reminds me of Mastodon’s 2011 album, The Hunter: In retrospect, it seems like a ball, like a great batter deferring to the next and greater batter. Or in this case, to their team’s best-ever batter: Once More ‘Round The Sun is Mastodon’s most urgent, deep, and formidable record. OMRTS is the definitive Mastodon for now — shit, their 2017 album might make it look like a ground-rule double. It’s happened before :)
And it’s Mastodon’s symbolic farm system from which springs Lo-Pan, the latter cosmetically distinct but spiritually linked to the former. The bands don’t sound alike — Lo-Pan is a Clutch tribute band staffed by the guys from Tool composing the soundtrack to an R-rated snowboard video on weed — but it’s possible that one has a juicier market to work because of the other’s monster breakthrough. Good baseball.
Like Return To Metalopolis, Mental Vortex, and Blood Mountain before it, Earth’s ether-dream classic Primitive And Deadly has the year’s best guitar tone by a mile. Unlike those three masterpieces, it’s both a soundtrack to drifting into sleep and the jam you set to awake you in the morning. Like the namesake of its creators, Primitive is foreboding and wondrous, bleak and verdant, heavy as fuck and rocketing through space. Unlike the vibe of its own title, it is timeless and beautiful. Like the rest of your hall of fame, it flies by you and never pauses. Unlike the rest of your hall of fame, it flies by slowly.
“Graphic. The best and clearest way that I can phrase it to you, Lou, to capture the spirit of what we air, is think of our newscast as a screaming woman running down the street with her throat cut.” — Nina Romina, Nightcrawler
Listen: “Fuck This Life”
Via their third album, we bestow on Steel Panther membership in a special group. They already had a rep for awesome live shows, their awesome debut album, and their awesome powers of mimicry. But AYCE is more than another ‘awesome’ in the series; it is their third different awesome vibe in three albums. (This time: Bon Jovi-level heavy.) It’s means dork-ass Steel Panther is like Steely Dan, XTC, Dandy Warhols, Faith No More, and the other lords of a mind-blowing discography. So think of AYCE as the joker-perv hairists’ own King For A Day … Fool For A Lifetime: dark, dirty, and not quite dudless.
Listen: “Gangbang At The Old Folks Home”
A guitarist arrives at this dilemma: You’re dying to know the riffs and solos of some awesome album, but you don’t want to spoil its secrets by learning it. To sit down and break down its parts, to dissect phrasing, and to commit to memory all the counts and repeats … To do that is to disperse an album’s magic. Like looking under the hood of a hot rod or sex in bad light, it makes intangible things too real. (Plus you must listen to yourself hack at your first few passes.) So ‘guitarist you’ must suffer for ‘listener you,’ like ‘journalist Anso’ suffered for ‘listener Anso’ cuz I’m scared to look The Satanist in the eye lest its mystique wilt under scrutiny. Fuck even now I’m thinking too hard about it, what makes it singular and essential. Damn! Okay next album!
Listen: “Messe Noire”
A listener will miss out on great jams if ruled by a zero-tolerance policy. For even great bands err, and conversely, inept bands can make incredible albums. Each makes you groan at least a few times each listen, but that’s tantamount to a trio of minor bails in a full day of skating ramps. In the case of He Is Legend’s life-changing return via Heavy Fruit, a self-sabotaging band was due their season of bad judgement — see their sophomore album sandwiched between two masterpieces — but escaped with an unforgettable odyssey whose misses are fleeting and filterable. We might chalk it up to a too-close relationship with producer Mitch Marlow, whom the band calls their sixth member, for Heavy Fruit buckles from a lack of tough love: It might’ve shed two songs, a few tossed-off lyrics, and at least one frustrating chorus. As great as Heavy Fruit is, it is not as good as He Is Legend.
The opposite goes for Lacuna Coil, a clumsily passionate European quintet by definition, yet one that has now cranked out four straight essential albums of brilliant poppy teenager metal. Lacuna Coil albums could belong to a sharper band, or at least a deeper one. Or put it this way: The LC experience is like my golfer buddy Gary. He chain smokes, he talks in your backswing; he staggers up to the tee all farting and sweaty, and swings like a drunk bear that just got shot in the back. But the path of his drives is majestic, his short game is tight, his putting deceptively sharp. These days he beats us by ten strokes. And Broken Crown Halo beats nearly every other metal album of 2014. Suck it, good bands!
At some point in your young life, you choose to hang with dangerous people. You give in to the pull towards despair and desperation. That’s normal, go get your fill of the dark side. After all, it’s good for you, plus it’s a relief that in the company of hopeless people, you’re unburdened of the task of being considered a decent human being. When surrounded by scum, the pressure is off you to behave even slightly humane. Hygiene, style, manners, positivity — hateful jerks will never demand these of you. It’s easy going on that front.
But it’s easy to be blind to the effects. Like, if your bad-ass buds smoke cigarettes, be prepared to get cancer from the second-hand. If they drive like crazy bastards and wear no seatbelts, then accept the prospect of a crash in which their untethered bodies crush your skull like a paper lantern. If they fuck with other rough dudes, expect to absorb a crony’s share of the retaliatory beating. Sure, around this gang you’re free of social stress, but don’t mistake that for a chance to drift away from your survival instincts. Have your scary fun, but stay on your toes.
This is your relationship to Lord Mantis’ harrowing, vomitous album Death Mask. Seductive in a brown, filthy way, it pulls you close via the awe-inspiring liberty of anti-social mania — only to belch gas fumes in your eyes and slip a scabby finger into your asshole. Imagine an alternate ending to The Silence Of The Lambs in which captor and captive remain undisturbed by investigators, then forge a demented co-dependency of dysphoria and soul-crippling abuse, and then a few decades later team up to record an album-length scum-sludge scream of despair. Imagine the soundtrack to a sewer main rupture in a hot morgue for recent Ebola fatalities. Imagine the sound of a supermodel buttfucked by a man-sized centipede.
But, again, to stare into the abyss is to suffer when the abyss collects its fee. Sure, Death Mask‘s sexy vileness will fascinate you, but like the sacks of human shit you hung out with through your 20s, it will kill at least a piece of you. You’ll suppress panic-screams the same way you hid your shudders that morning your gutter buddies dropped by to fight over the spoils of a meth scam at a gabber rave. Its yawning hazel anus will suck you up as you ponder a physical universe in which four Chicagoans and their producer can articulate a most profound, painful, claustrophobic suffering. As you approach to examine its textures, you’ve already breathed its spores. They’ll take root in your soul right as you think you’re ready to turn away from this gibbering morass of shit and cum. This is not entertainment. Lord Mantis is a threat to your safety. Keep your eyes open.
Listen: “Death Mask”