David Lee Rothmund’s Top Fifteen Metal Albums of 2014
Right. So if you don’t know me, I’m the guy who writes Tuesday’s Shit That Comes Out Today column, the agreed-upon most alright column here on MetalRules. As the columnist, I have to listen to so much new shit each week that I lose sight of where I’m going or what I’m writing or what my doing or what am cat is fuckface of at. So first off, apologies for leaving Deafheaven’s Sunbather and Rivers Of Nihil’s The Conscious Seed Of Light off of last year’s list. I’m a dumbfuck.
Second off, here is what lies ahead: a bunch of albums from my memory pool which I thought were just fuckin’ incredible. Like, something about them not only impressed me, but made me fall deep in love. Kind of an unreal, inexplicable type of connection. Romantic. Organic. Intimate.
Fifth and finally, this has been a wicked, boss-ass year for metal. So much happened, so many new sounds, new bands, old bands with new sounds, new bands with old sounds, etc. My tastes have changed – and I hope yours have too – and that’s allowed me a wider appreciation of this sick and mad genre. So enough of the sauce talk, on with the wieners.
By default I have to give a shout-out to Mastodon, probably the best-rounded band in metal history. They’ve gone from monstrous underground grindcore to devastating pre-post metal to psychedelic rockers in the span of, what, 15 years or so? So you might say that Mastodon is riding the trend wave – no, I say, I think they’re helping form it! Once More ‘Round The Sun proves that Mastodon is not just good (already proven twice-over with Remission and Leviathan), but also cool. Not cool like the smelly kids with leather jackets in high school, though, but cool like Daniel Craig or The Dude, whichever is your thang.
Listen: “The Motherload“
I like to party. And nobody parties quite like Destrage (sorry Andrew WK). Are You Kidding Me? No. is the album Children Of Bodom wanted to write with their totally adolescent Relentless, Reckless Forever. I know, I know, totally different genre, but you get the point: it’s hard to sound party-tastic without sounding kinda douchey. Destrage, with that sweet Italian touch (trust me, I know), turn getting wild into the next sliced bread or the next pet rock or whatever. All the while, they retain all the things a groovy melodeath album needs: technicality, punch, silkiness, and gusto.
Listen: “My Green Neighbor”
Trudger is Mastodon’s rotten corpse, pretty much what’s left after all the skin dries off and gets eaten away, plus all the organs and goop and connective tissue and shit (ew). Anyhow, Dormiveglia punishes the ears with such shrill accuracy and grandiose intensity that it gets a mention on this list. What it loses in mood by being more contained it easily gains back with raw and utter power. Oh, and plus that cover art is just wonderful.
Listen: “Into The Abysmal Future”
Because it’s fucking At The Gates, that’s why. Somehow they managed to show us the future in 1995 with Slaughter Of The Soul, one of the most forward-thinking metal albums, barely paled in comparison by Meshuggah’s early work. The trend of kickassery continues with At War With Reality, probably the most authentically catchy album on this list. The true pleasure of listening to fast, hard, mean music comes out in its glory colors here.
Listen: “At War With Reality”
“Ambiance. Relaxation. Atmosphere. These are just some of the features on the new Inter Amra record, The Cavern. Dive right into a world of pleasure and bliss, with misty waterfalls and sandy beaches and crisp, earthy forests. Let the mood-altering sounds sail you away far out into the ocean, where you can look at the sky and count the stars. Your time is now. Pick up your copy today for 16 easy payments of…” Ah, sorry, the TV was on. Which album are we on? Oh, right, eleven. It’s Inter Arma’s The Cavern, it’s pretty fucking goddamn good.
Listen: “The Cavern”
So it’s not just that I love the name Artificial Brain, but it’s that Labyrinth Constellation is a pretty fucking magnificent album. And as the name implies, the album is this odd mix between robotics and organics. The interplay results in this dazzling array of new sounds, many of which carry forward as themes through individual songs. The result is a full “ah feels completely new” thing, like taking your socks off in bed under freshly-washed sheets.
Listen: “Brain Transplant”
As We Draw brings a much needed Western European sensibility to the rigidly influenced post-metal scene. Mirages is at that artful stage between sloppy and drudge-y, balancing in-between, with each song a small teeter one way or the other. Through this balance it inspires innovation and creativity, which slowly become fully exposed as the album progresses. Oh, and as a bonus (omg breaking the rules), check out the band Plebeian Grandstand on Throatruiner as well.
Listen: “The Window”
Surprise bitches! I’ll tell you about them instead! Short and sweet: Lowgazers is a disgusting and revolting work of art. It’s the devolution of As We Draw’s Mirages, the return to some more basic and ballistic existence. It’s got all the semi-mathcore madness you need, plus discordance for days, and yet retains this oddly French feeling. Kind of like stinky cheese? The stinkiest. And that’s the one I always buy (it comes in special paper I think to prevent your fridge from getting icky).
*Top song title of 2014
Not metal, I know, but Pink Lemonade so perfectly honors metal’s ability to genre-meld that it gets to ride with the big boys. Pink Lemonade has all the progressive-y metal spirit, just without the screaming and sick distortions yo and double bass on bass on bass. Remember, metal is much more than the sum of its parts! So think of Closure In Moscow as Between The Buried And Me’s more fabulous cousin, shootin’ rainbows and dazzling minds with acapella taco moments and tickling your booty with intricate guitar work and silly song structures. A real joy to be around!
Listen: “Pink Lemonade“
Anso DF, popular MetalSucks contributor and Man Who Fixes My Shitty Writing, captured Death Mask pretty accurately. In my words, it goes like this: Thousands of bands these days who purport to capture “oh look at how insane we are” never actually do, which means they’re big fat phonies and not worth our time. Lord Mantis is actually infirm and definitely worth our time. There is an ultimate sickness with Death Mask which makes you up-chuck a little bit in your mouth, and that’s for some reason a pleasurable feeling (see, now you’re insane). This quality is so essential to metal that those who master it should be high on a fancy list, just like this one. Bingo.
Listen: “Body Choke“
I hate to say it, but metal is carried so heavily on the shoulders of guitarists. Drums and vocals can each break an otherwise great album, but a great album always needs great guitarwork. Soreption has literally mowed down forests with Engineering the Void, mostly thanks to the purity and precision of the axe-slingers. Each song is a new horrorhouse of cut-and-slash booby trap riffage, hooks every second along the way, and razor-blade ear surgery. A full-on guitarist’s album that anyone can love.
Listen: “Breaking the Great Narcissist”
If this was David Lee Rothmund’s Top 15 Vocal Performances of 2014, The Lucid Collective would be top dawg. Below I’ve linked you “Fathom Infinite Depth,” the albums fourth and best track, which opens with enough primordial rage to make wooden clubs and butt flaps not only trendy, but necessary. You’d be surprised, then, that an album with such Neanderthalian brutality can be so silken and nuanced and tasteful, every moment resting on a knife’s edge between total calamity (oh no!) and crushing tech-death brilliance (oh yes). But lo and behold, it’s here.
Listen: “Fathom Infinite Depth”
Last year, Dingir made my top-15, and so it goes for Lugal Ki En this year. I defended Rings of Saturn not for being genuine or honest, but for moving some goalposts for other tech-death bands to shoot at. Rings reigns categorically supreme when it comes to aggressiveness, motif, and attack. And they’ve not relented on Lugal Ki En, with its death-blow #aliencore riffage and vocals from outer space and absurd taco moments. And then you realize, “wait, isn’t this shit supposed to sound hyper-produced, like it’s from the future?” Yes, yes, yes, I bet you 50 spacebucks you’ll love this album after dropping prejudices!
Listen: “Lalassu Xul“
Earlier this year I gave The Flesh Prevails five thumbs up, and if I had another two and a half people handy right now I’d give it another five. Part of its appeal and resultant success is Fallujah’s adolescence, that tinge of “we don’t know what we’re doing, but we’re gonna fuckin’ do it anyway.” They played their hand, took some risks, and royal-flushed this album straight down our earholes. Whether true brilliance or just metalgaze-y techdeath with added synth, The Flesh Prevails is the goddamn best (easily digestible) metal album of this year.
Listen: “Carved From Stone”
Oh, give it to me baby. Spectral Lore’s III is a fierce and dark and mad guided tour through what it really takes to be metal. Nothing written this year has made a truer connection to the golden essences of heavy music: such power, such mood, such gravity, such intricacy, such beauty, such fuck me harder, baby.
And nothing this year has been richer or more dramatic or more unyielding or grandiose. You truly need an entire canister of Metamucil and some prune juice to pass III without hospitalization. Even its framework reflects its gargantuan size — long pauses between tracks, an 80+ minute runtime, and fully-fleshed novelistic songs, each with their own unique slow build and frisson-inducing denouement.
It’s so worthy of inclusion on any list of all-time metal greats that you’ll actually want to lop off your thumb, ring finger, and middle finger to celebrate it for-ev-uh. And, get this, it was written by just one man, how fuckin’ metal is that! So count me in, Spectral Lore’s III is metal’s big “look at me now, ma!” to all the years behind us, and a big “beat this” to all those ahead. Carry on.