Excretakano’s Top Fifteen Metal Albums of 2014


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Let’s just start here:  This list should have included new masterpieces by Teitanblood, Lantlôs, the Great Old Ones, Blut Aus Nord, At the Gates and maybe even Nihill, but the MetalSucks despots are, it turns out, collectively The Man and are intent on strangling individual integrity and brazen self-indulgence out of music journalism by dictating the list be kept to fifteen entries.  Despite the fact that I provided 46 pages of incontrovertible mathe-fucking-matical proof that 14 + 7 = 15, the ‘Suckers insisted that they would not only refuse to pay for the article but would, without hesitation, put an end to both my Fraggle-themed porn subsidy and my comped monthly invasive kidney check-ups, neither of which is negotiable in my book.  Even the suggestion of discontinuation is cruel emotional abuse.  So here’s a version I’ve edited specifically to eek under the oppressive glare of censorship’s latest greatest champions.  Hope you’re happy, you smug bastards.  Scratch that.  I hope you choke on Gobo’s thick, Trash-Heap-crusted cock.

Warfather - Orchestrating the Apocalypse15.  Warfather – Orchestrating the Apocalypse (Greyhaze)

Steve Tucker owns a voice that oozes death metal.  If Tucker had been born in a previous century, his demon-trucker roar would have demanded that he invent death metal with, I don’t know, a lute and some wooden blocks maybe.  Coffin-sized blocks.  Now a free agent after spending time as the vocal representative of Morbid Angel and Nader Sadek’s rotating squad of volunteers, Tucker drew together his own band of filthy riff hounds and sewed up a rich, exciting album that, for the first time, represents his own personalized approach to transcendent concepts and classically layered, countermelodic songwriting.  “I wanted the songs to express emotion,” says Tucker.  “I didn’t want to just have cool riffs.”  As a breakout album of renewed intensity, Orchestrating the Apocalypse most definitely succeeds.

Listen:  “Ashes and Runes”

Agalloch - The Serpent and the Sphere14.  Agalloch – The Serpent and the Sphere (Profound Lore)

Serpent was not a clear choice for this year’s most affecting albums.  Not as cohesive and fluid as The Mantle, nor as catchily powerful as Ashes Against the Grain, nor as predatory as Marrow of the Spirit, the new Agalloch album had to vie with its muscular brethren for attention and this time there was no single thread of elements that gave it an edge.  Serpent reveals itself slowly, with tempos to match, and it certainly cannot be confused with any other Agalloch record.  A weighty fog surrounds “Birth and Death of the Pillars of Creation”; subdued intensity fills “Plateau of the Ages”; in-between tracks like “Dark Matter Gods” and “Celestial Effigy” undulate on the power of chords shaped like tree-speckled moors and leads dragged from an Irish coastline, sounding more like variations on Primordial songs than anything else in metal.  Serpent won’t demand the same kind of devotion as earlier Agalloch efforts might have, but it is absolutely the sound of a band searching for places they’ve never been before.

Listen:  “Plateau of the Ages”

Thantifaxath13.  Thantifaxath – Sacred White Noise (Dark Descent)

A part of me – okay, every part of me except three toes and a couple eyebrow hairs – wanted this record to actually be a mind-raping jag of tasteless, blistering noise.  I haven’t heard anything from that field that has radiation-blasted my flesh recently.  Honestly, though, this album is the next best thing:  atonal black metal meltdown wrapped in a prog burrito with a full understanding of everything black metal has been over the past two decades.  This sort of studied approach rarely pairs with the kind of physical discomfort or visceral impact necessary to really reach in and scrape against the nerve fibers, but Thantifaxath achieve exactly that.  I’m excited to see the band perform at MDF 2015, and I’ll be keeping a an eye (and a few toes and eyebrow hairs) out for whatever record material they come up with next.

Listen:  “The Bright White Nothing at the End of the Tunnel”

Ghost Brigade - IV - One with The Storm12.  Ghost Brigade – IV: One with the Storm (Season of Mist)

After slowly falling in love with Isolation Songs back in 2009 then wending my way through hollow disappointment with 2011’s Until Fear No Longer Defines Us, I was thrilled to reconfirm that place I hold in my heart just for Ghost Brigade.  One with the Storm continues in a similar vein as earlier albums, but songs like “Electra Complex” and “The Knife” raise the stakes and satisfy in ways their earlier material did not.  Instead of sapping energy from songs, the melodies only strengthen the music.  Old compositional gaps get filled in interesting ways:  where the band sometimes stooped toward being emo, now atmospheric accents bolster the sense of craft, and dark churning underpins bits that were once flaccidly morose.  The genius of Storm is that it improves upon an already established sound without seeking any truly new leaves to turn over.  I guess this is the quality that thrash aficionados have touted for years as the brass ring of metal.  Ghost Brigade are helping me understand.

Listen:  “Electra Complex”

Tombs - Savage Gold11.  Tombs – Savage Gold (Relapse)

Mike Hill inspires admiration.  And fear of getting beat the fuck down.  But mostly admiration.  Since Tombs convened in 2007, Hill has mashed his nose to the grindstone – presumably using up thousands of noses in the process – in pursuit of his most complete vision for a band that was meant to fuse a stony-faced hardcore ethos to black metal savagery and the dirty meat-machine industrialisms of Swans and Godflesh.  Tombs’ particular musical mutation is not an obvious hybrid, nor is it a pretty beast.  Revving the ugly-ometer into the red zone takes guts and an uncommon single-mindedness.  Savage Gold represents a keenly honed band whose purpose has been sharpened by every move since their self-titled debut.  It is an accomplishment to be admired.  While you get beat the fuck down.

Listen:  “Echoes”

Excretakano’s Top Fifteen Metal Albums of 201410.  Dead Congregation – Promulgation of the Fall (Martyrdoom)

Since 2008’s Graves of the Archangels, bleak Greeks Dead Congregation had been ominously silent.  Had they poured all their strength into one ferocious album?  Was that all they were capable of producing?  This year’s Promulgation of the Fall proves those worries were completely unfounded.  These eight new songs wave the old-school death banner high and proud, augmented with a few tricks from Fucks-Not-Given gore-grind and moody blackened devils from Down Under.  Drums terrorize, solos rip and frighten, vocals batter and abrade like blows from a thorny baseball bat.  If disappointment waited in the wings for this release, you can be sure that fucker got dragged backstage for a deserved asskicking.

Listen:  “Schisma”

5. Winterfylleth - The Threnody of Triumph9.  Winterfylleth – Divination of Antiquity (Candlelight)

One of these days, Winterfylleth is going to relax their pace a little and give us all a chance to catch up with the true depth of their extraordinary output.  Each of their recordings present multidimensional labyrinths in which listeners can easily lose themselves pursuing musical and philosophical questions (and rarely answers).  Divination of Antiquity comes on the heels of a split with Ukrainian woodland heroes Drudkh and a compilation of European folk songs alongside prominent artists like Primordial and Kampfar.  The band knits blustery violence out of warm chord progressions and songs that sound like knotted trees rooted in rocky, inhospitable soil.  It’s an entrancing listen, one that almost certainly deserves more time than Winterfylleth will give us before handing over their next opus.

Listen:  “Over Borderlands”

Thou - Heathen8.  Thou – Heathen (Robotic Empire)

Sometimes you want metal to spar with you, a blow-swapping hardcore smackdown that lands its wicked stone fists in all your soft parts.  Sometimes you want to ride metal like warhorse while you swing a rune-scrawled axe in one hand and a ritual mead cup in the other.  And sometimes you need a band like Thou to be the 30-foot storm-summoned wave that slaps you like the beach you are.  (Sorry, I couldn’t help it.)  Like every other Thou record, Heathen overwhelms with volume at the same time it beckons with crushing melody and breaks Bryan Funcke’s seared vocals over you just to add injury to injury.  I wasn’t monumentally impressed with much of this year’s slow-n-scary output, but that’s cool:  Thou hast reinforced my faith with Heathen.  (Again, really couldn’t help it.)

Listen:  “Free Will” 

Excretakano’s Top Fifteen Metal Albums of 20147.  Panopticon – Roads to the North (Bindrune)

Austin Lunn’s prolific project blending rural American traditions/problems with expansive death/black metal primitivism has always offered a captivating experience.  Previous album Kentucky broke from Panopticon’s largely political agenda and fastened itself to a region in a way that was somehow both surprising and perfectly in line with the pastoral black metal that has risen out of Europe and elsewhere for decades.  Roads to the North advances the argument further with blazing guitar assaults, epic songscapes and extraordinary and eclectic musicianship, all wrapped around a sense of purpose that guides the album like an expertly loosed arrow.  Lunn has his fingers in other work as well, all of which is worth hearing, but Roads to the North fulfills 2014’s quota of deep-thought metal that succeeds in translating the personal into the universal.

Listen:  “Where Mountains Pierce the Sky”

Fallujah - The Flesh Prevails6.  Fallujah – The Flesh Prevails (Unique Leader)

In that long-lived war between the jazzy and the savage, between sky-capering melodic atmospheres and subterranean, granite-splitting brutality, most anyone who engages in it loses.  The disheartening fact is that most musicians have a flair for one and a misconception of the other, and most of the recorded material that tries to unite these forces ends up putting those weaknesses on grand display.  Fallujah are the exception.  The Flesh Prevails finds a way to service its diverse personalities simultaneously, each one giving air to the other.  Some of the best music sounds like it always existed, like the musicians just got out of the way and let it pass through them, and The Flesh Prevails revels in moments like that.  Initially, I ignored this record; once I gave it my attention, though, Fallujah refused to give it back.

Listen:  “Carved From Stone”

Woccon - Solace in Decay5.  Woccon – Solace in Decay (Deathbound)

With their debut full-length, Woccon play like masters of melodic death/doom, like pioneers without peer or precedent.  There is precedent, of course, because Scandinavia exists, but Solace in Decay’s crushing chords and piano melodies are so convincing and entrancing that complaints of the band’s lateness to this particular party should be decisively silenced.  On the topic of lateness, though… Damn you, Deathbound Records, for putting Solace on the radar so late in the year.  It nearly didn’t make this list – and might not have made other, more important and well read lists – for precisely this reason.  And here it is, besting even the extraordinary 2014 efforts by Agalloch and Tombs.  I expect to spin this record more frequently over time, long after many of this year’s releases have faded beneath notice.

Listen:  “Impermanence”

Triptykon - Melana Chasmata4.  Triptykon – Melana Chasmata (Century)

Tom G. Warrior does not disappoint.  Melana Chasmata decimates and haunts, forever heavy without ever hinting at any particular subgenre allegiance.  As any legacy-level project by a storied band of musicians should, Melana Chasmata stirs the cauldron of bubbling metal and dips out whichever mixture of ingredients feels most inspired at any given moment.  In that way, it’s almost like an extreme underground version of a pop album – not simple or obviously accessible, but unconstrained by oft-imposed musical limits.  Melana Chasmata has a complex but consistent character, a complete personality that benefits from different moods (of despair).  Let the darkness enfold you.

Listen:  “Tree of Suffocating Souls

Lord Mantis Death Mask3.  Lord Mantis – Death Mask (Profound Lore)

I’ll say it:  The dudes in Lord Mantis are some scary fucking freaks.  Every interview that band mouthpiece Charlie Fell gives (to Noisey, to Decibel) turns up some new tale of a personal experience that would signal rock bottom for most of us frail meat sticks, but which simply lies somewhere along Fell’s spectrum of what a Thursday can be.  Their records have always reeked of corrupted pus squeezed from infected sweat glands, but Death Mask represents new levels of diseased viscosity.  From the granny-punching groove of “Body Choke” to the machine-fucked noise of “Possession Prayer,” from the bone-warping lurch/sprint of “Negative Birth” to the crooning depravity that courses through “Three Crosses,” Lord Mantis have documented the depths in a musical capsule that acts as both a beckoning finger and a cautionary tale.

Listen:  “Body Choke”

Devin Townsend Z2 large2.  Devin Townsend – Sky Blue (InsideOut)

Here’s a blasphemy to some, a tumble into the obvious for others:  Devin Townsend is not infallible.  But when the man records an hour of prog-pop metal perfection, you betta reckonize.  The original quartet of DTP albums was inspired but fragmented.  Epicloud bubbled with brilliance, though it occasionally stuttered with well-intentioned overreaching.  Sky Blue reaches… and grabs fistfuls of whatever it was groping for.  Song after song shoves its transcendent fingers into the heart and elevates this worldly experience.  I’d gush more, but I shot a dozen loads already into my review of the album.  You’ll notice I’ve pruned away Dark Matters from my entry here – it’s really good, don’t get me wrong, but on its own it’s hardly Best of Year material, and next to its unaffected sister album it pales almost to an afterthought.  And it really doesn’t have anything to do with Sky Blue, which is a revelation without needing to be propped up by Ziltoid’s self-aggrandizing adventures.  Sky Blue launches the proverbial bar into the ionosphere, and nothing seems likely to hit quite the same pitch for a long time to come.

Listen:  “Universal Flame”

1.  Gridlink – Longhena (Handshake Inc.)Gridlink - Longhena

If I ranked metal subgenres closest to my heart, death/doom would probably headline, followed closely by avant-garde black metal, death metal, drone, sludge, right on down the list.  Grind probably wouldn’t show up in the top ten.  And yet, for the past two years, it’s been a grind record that has turned my shit upside down.  Granted, Antigama’s Meteor and Gridlink’s Longhena sure ain’t that copier-quality gore-punk shit, though I can certainly enjoy that stuff on its own terms.  But the sheer arrogance of marrying grind’s rabid carnage to flashbulb-fast compositional details with real color and emotional content – that’s what centuries of Odyssey scholars have called “hubris.”  Somehow Gridlink (RIP) succeeded.  Guitarist/chaosmaster Takafumi Matsubara, vocalist Jon Chang, drummer Bryan Fajardo and bassist Ted Patterson ushered 26 dimensions worth of gorgeous violence into our reality, aided by indispensible violin find Joey Molinaro.  Longhena isn’t just a great record for 2014.  It’s a milestone, a new genre landmark that must not go unappreciated.

Listen:  “Taibas”

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