And Who Could Forget That Guy: Emperor Rhombus’ Top Fifteen Metal Albums of 2014
2014 has been a year of unexpected highs and lows, but I can’t help but feel the highs have won. Sure, there have been plenty of things worth bitching about—labels not getting me my merchandise on time, roommates behaving like total morons, hangovers that could have killed grown pack animals, and earth-shaking losses among my musical idols—but it’s also been a year of pleasant surprises. There have been truly wonderful moments that have colored my entire world. I’ve attended some amazing shows, met some incredible people, consumed some mind-blowing beers, and overall experienced things that I’ll remember for the rest of my life. In short, readers, I’ve had a good year. Surprising, I know. Don’t worry, humanity is still scum, and I’m sure this paragraph is just tempting karma to serve me the worst 2015 I could possibly have.
Anyway, here are the albums that I’ve most enjoyed listening to along the way. If you know me, nothing here will come as a surprise. Hope all of you have a decent end of the year. Be safe, be loud, and don’t let anyone tell you that you’re too fat to rock that fucking awesome Malignancy shirt you got in high school. See you next year.
In the beautiful, grandiose place between Naglfar and Suffocation lies Inferi, who perfectly blend cinematic melodies with brutal technical death metal to form something that sounds incredibly familiar and altogether novel. Few albums have been as much fun to discover as this one.
Listen: “The Ophidian Form”
If you took the Mad Max franchise, stirred it up with some amphetamines, and boiled it all down into a reduction, it might taste a little like this album, a punk-leaning thrash rager that shoves the listener into the pit head-first. But more than another Toxic Holocaust clone, this German band break up their speed attack with moments of severe atmosphere and melancholy. An impressive release.
Listen: “Under The Ripping Storm”
A random album that I found as part of a typical Tuesday harvest, this collection of crushing death-doom tracks became a heavy-rotation record almost immediately. With all the creeping grossness and tasty riffs you could ever ask for, Of Terror… is drinking music for the death metal soul.
Listen: “Rot In Solitude”
12. High Spirits, You Are Here (Hell’s Headbangers)
As a dude who loves his oft-cheesy metal band art and song concepts, I find albums that just rock—they don’t posture or pose or imitate but just rock—to be extremely rare. That’s what High Spirits’ new album does. To compare it to old bands like Kiss or Thin Lizzy makes sense sonically, but not so much thematically. Those bands were all about image. High Spirits just rock.
Listen: “The Last Night”
Black metal can be a thorny genre to navigate properly, but this Richmond band manages to hit every nail right on the head. Instinct… has a perfect balance of rage and anguish, traditional thunder and experimental introspection. And on top of all of that, it’s as creepy and shadowy as they come. An unexpected and awesome new record.
Listen: “The Killer In Us All”
On previous albums, 1349’s nonstop assault has been a little repetitive. But every song on Cauldron stands out, colored as much by classic thrash and later Celtic Frost as it is by the band’s corpsepainted roots. The result is a dynamic, infectious record that none the less breathes the church smoke of true black metal.
UNGH. One of only two bands from 2013’s list to make it to this one, Origin has done it again. Omnipresent is a whirlwind of technical death metal that manages to be as catchy as it is punishing. Few albums grab you the minute you hear them; this one seizes you by the neck. An instantaneous favorite.
Listen: “The Absurdity of What I Am”
Big, mean, and buried in smoke, Time To Die shows us metal’s stoniest band at their angriest. As I mentioned in my review of this record, Electric Wizard seem intent on being as pissed-off and self-involved as possible here, doing away tongue-in-cheek movie and weed references in exchange for a monolithic middle finger. The result is unstoppable, a fitting new addition to an already-awesome catalogue.
Listen: “Funeral of Your Mind”
7. Skull Fist, Chasing The Dream (Noiseart Records)
YEAH, SON! The band’s name is Skull Fist. They’re from Canada. They sound like a more underground Holy Grail, with hints of classic Anvil and Raven. I…don’t know what more you need. Go out and get this record. Do you have any beers?
Listen: “Bad For Good”
Many bands focus on sounding more brutal and hardcore throughout their career. Arizona’s TOAD did the opposite in 2014, crafting a record awash with the perverse darkness of Celtic Frost and Goblin. The end product is Vacant Face, an album loaded with blazing riffs, drugged-out organ leads, and unsettling themes of sexuality gone wrong. A brilliant step forward for one of metal’s best new bands.
Listen: “Terminal Burrowing”
It’s good to see that Nergal made his second chance at life count. From start to finish, Behemoth’s tenth full-length release enthralls the listener; more than that, it reintroduces them to a great band. Over the course of The Satanist, it becomes increasingly clear that the Behemoth of old, the straight-forward death metal machine, is gone, and something far more spiritually sinister has taken their place. Easily Behemoth’s best album to date.
Listen: “O Father O Satan O Sun!”
When many metalheads think of Brooklyn, they imagine bleeding-heart trust funders who like nodding along to twanging folk while drinking out of mason jars or some shit like that. Mutilation Rites’ new album dispels such blasphemy. Both mind-bendingly emotional and scathingly dark, Harbinger takes filth to new levels by pushing the boundaries of what we know to be brutal black metal. Take note, modern misanthropes—this is the new standard, the bar which you must now try to reach.
Everything about Mantar’s Death By Burning took me by surprise: the bizarre Renaissance-esque cover art, the catchy chugging riffs, the shrieked vocals with their perfect rhythmic cadence, the splashes of post-punk injected into these charging metal anthems…and this came out on Svart? Every spin of this record introduced me to something about the band I didn’t know I would love until I did. Of the bands on this list, this is the one I’m most interested in following in the coming year.
Listen: “Astral Kannibal”
2. Hooded Menace, Labyrinth of Carrion Breeze EP (Doomentia Records)
A two-song vinyl-only EP is my second-best album of the year? Surely there must be some mistake, right? Nope! See, if the two songs on your vinyl EP are unspeakably cool—if you release an album that contains only two of the year’s best songs—then you deserve all the praise you get. And that’s what Finland’s spooky death metallers did. I’ve listened to the two songs on the Labyrinth… EP more than any other tracks this year. Credit where credit is due.
Listen: “The Creeping Flesh”
The MetalSucks review doesn’t lie: this record is perfect. Imbued with all the atmosphere, kinetic energy, and brooding hatred that one has come to expect from Tom Gabriel Fischer, Melana Chasmata is a grand declaration of dominance within the extreme metal community. Every song adheres to the same magnificent aesthetic of very real, very human darkness. To new bands, this should be taken both as an example as to what can be done within the genre and a warning of sorts: some of the old gods weakened over the years, but others simply sat in shadow and chaos, becoming more powerful and cruel as they waited for a chance to swoop down upon humanity once more. Trifle with them and be crushed. And in 2014, there is no album more crushing than Melana Chasmata.