Vince Neilstein’s Top 15 Metal Albums of 2014
The truth about me and 2014 is that I probably listened to the new Royksopp + Robyn EP, Future Islands‘ dance-along instant classic Singles and 2013’s stunning Wintergatan opus more than anything else, my #1 pick excepted. Such is the life of a jaded metal asshole who gets 100+ promo emails of METAL pumped into his inbox every day.
But 2014 was a fantastic year for metal nonetheless! Established acts and up-and-comers alike put out a bevy of great records, although naturally I tend to gravitate towards the latter. Here’s my list of albums, assembled in a loosely significant order, that meant something to me this year.
I could never quite get into Tombs in the past; a band I enjoyed enough live, but nothing really stuck with me. That changed with Savage Gold, and a big part of that is Erik Rutan’s trademark clear but raw production — finally it’s possible to hear EVERYTHING these guys are playing rather than just an approximation. Which is swell, because what these guys are playing is friggin’ awesome — from fast and frenetic to haunting and gloomy, Savage Gold runs the gamut and does it all deftly.
Exmortus employ a stage move where the two guitarists play one another’s axes behind each other’s backs, which sounds confusing until you watch it and you’re like “Duh, how’d no one ever think to do this before?” That example of showmanship is a perfect microcosm of the band, who are completely over the top in every way. But few modern bands do neo-classical shred this well, even less have such a keen ear for arrangement and certainly none thrash as hard while doing it. All hail Prosthetic Records for finally spreading this band to the masses after years spent toiling in West Coast obscurity.
Listen: “Foe Hammer”
Coming up with new ideas and pushing your band forward is really tough when you’ve been doing it for 20 years already. On Bloodstones & Diamonds, Robb Flynn somehow found a way to maintain all the things that are integral to “the Machine Head sound” while still forcing the band into new sonic territory. B&D is the rare modern metal album that will please longtime fans of a band and bring new ones into the fold.
Listen: “Game Over”
Allegaeon may never become game-changers, but they’re certainly not just regurgitating tired metal tropes and they’re really fucking good at what they do. Elements of the Infinite is their best effort yet, upping that “Allegaeon-ness” and taking it to the next level, finally coming into their own. Bonus: the orchestra and arrangement on album-closer “Genocide for Praise – Values for the Vitruvian Man” is absolutely OOC in the best way!
These Swedes have been around forever and swapped a million members in and out, but I suggest they stick with the personnel they’ve got on Universe ’cause it’s slammin’. Olds like me are super into this album because it’s part grunge, part stoner, part metal and 100% RIFFS. When those fuzzed-as-fuck guitars kick in — as they do at some point in every song — it’s fucking ON and I just lose my shit; never has a record label name been more appropriate.
Listen: “Mind Control”
Pick your poison: “The best thing since SikTh,” “A way heavier Protest the Hero” or “Van Halen meets Psyopus,” all of which sum up Destrage nicely. I had high hopes for the Italian metallers’ third album overall and first for Metal Blade and they totally delivered. More than any other band this year, several MetalSucks readers came up to me at shows and thanked me for introducing them to Destrage — you’re quite welcome!
Listen: “Destroy Create Transform Sublimate”
In the vein of not-really-metal-but-still-definitely-heavy bands like Muse, Dredg and Biffy Clyro comes The Intersphere, a German three-piece who released their fourth album this year. It’s artful and catchy and proggy and a lot of other things that I know plenty of MetalSucks readers dig. I’m listening to it again right now for the first time in months, and yep, I’m still singing along with every song; it’s a winner.
Listen: “Relations in the Unseen”
2011’s Heritage saw Opeth experiment with full-on ’70s prog rock warship and Pale Communion finds them honing in on their own little corner of that domain. Even those who enjoyed Heritage had to admit it felt a bit uneven, but there are no such concerns this time around: Pale Communion is cohesive from start to finish, and it’s absolutely mesmerizing all the way through. If this is the sound of all Opeth to come I’m totally alright with that, because Opeth make a spectacular prog rock band and re-hashing the past is only for the scared and weak-minded.
Listen: “Eternal Rains Will Come”
It’s been a ton of fun following Revocation’s career; rather than adjusting to modern trends or veering off into weird musical territory they just seem to keep evolving more and more into THEMSELVES. Each passing album sounds more and more Revocation-y, and that’s certainly the case with Deathless which is as good an example of what this band sounds like as any of their albums.
Listen: “Labyrinth of Eyes”
“Great Mistake” is the best death metal song of the year, and “Withering Waves” and “The Fractured One” probably aren’t too far behind. The rest of the album tends to blend together a bit without any other stand-out tracks — which maybe the band knows, given their 20-minute Song of the Crippled Bull EP still comprises a majority of their live setlist — but that doesn’t stop Black Crown Initiate from being one of the brightest up and comers in the death metal sphere.
Listen: “Great Mistake”
The same way Allegaeon’s Elements of the Infinite (see #12 above) saw that band finally coming into their own and defining what it means to be themselves, Language finds The Contortionist maturing into their bodies, unafraid to branch out any which way they feel and unrestrained by genre confines or expectations from their past work. On Language The Contortionist — aided by their skilled new vocalist Michael Lessard, also of Last Chance to Reason — combine a bit of their past heaviness, rooted firmly in the modern, with expansive, atmospheric and substantially chilled-out prog breaks that call to mind Cynic at their trippiest. It works incredibly well, and Language is one helluvan album.
Listen: “Primordial Sound”
Could be a #1, or at least #2, if not for the vanilla mixing job and brickwalled-to-11 mastering that render The Flesh Prevails unlistenable from start to finish, a hot topic everyone’s been talking about since the album came out. It’s really a shame, because the songs are so fucking good, and this band is clearly onto something — no one else sounds like them right now, and The Flesh Prevails is their coming out party. That it can still land at #4 despite one of the biggest botched production jobs of the year — my ears hurt just listening to ten seconds of the linked song below! — is testament to how solid the material is.
Not only did they write the album everyone wanted them to write, but they exceeded all expectations. It’s all here: the riffs, the melody, the art, the bone-crunching vocal delivery. At War With Reality rips in a way that no other melodeath releases — nay, most metal releases, period — can even come close to touching.
Listen: “Death and the Labyrinth”
Devin has proven equally capable of writing both uber-heavy metal (Deconstruction, Z2’s Dark Matters disc) and super-light non-metal (Casualties of Cool, Ghost) but it seems as if his sweet-spot is right in between, making pop-flavored metal albums that are easy to sing along to but handily more complex than anything else out there (Addicted, Epicloud, this one). Not only is he just so GOOD at it, but it seems to be where he himself has the most fun, and that happiness shines through in the music. In that regard, Sky Blue delivers and then some where Dark Matters feels just… a little too tryhard-y.
Listen: “Universal Flame”
1. Babymetal – Babymetal (Amuse Inc. / Toy’s Factory Inc.)
A complete game-changer, and the de facto most-argued about album of the year. Sure, the cute Japanese teenage girl angle is great — and hella entertaining — but it wouldn’t mean anything if the band members weren’t masters of their instruments who write perfect songs. Every track is catchy from beginning to end, and the bizarre presentation makes it impossible to look away. Call me a pedo, call me a troll, but the fact is that I don’t think I listened to any album more in 2014, and there was no band I was more anxious to share with friends both metal and non-metal alike. Sometimes metal needs to be fun, and Babymetal are all about it.