2014 was a year of escapism for me. Hell, who am I kidding – every year is a year of escapism for me. Anything to get me off this planet for a while. Anything that doesn’t involve my leaping in front of a careening train, that is.
This was the first year in a healthy stretch where I felt metal offered up more than just one or two positive avenues as legit 30+ minute distractions from a world swirling down the Universe’s toilet bowl in a tornado of horrific disease, terrorism, political/social/economic strife, etc., etc., etc. Feel like shit? Here’s a week’s worth of energetic power metal to help you navigate the malaise.
But I’m also a dyed-in-the-wool Libra, gals, so I’m always striving for some semblance of balance. As such, each jubilant, Euro-charged yelp was met with a razor-sharp riff or glottal grunt stewed in skepticism. SERENITY NOW BUT SPRINKLED WITH SUFFERING.
Also notable for me in terms of Last Rites 2014:
• This was a year that gave me an opportunity to pen a pile of (conceivably) whimsical heavy metal haiku to accompany Last Rites’ epic 80s’ Essentials undertaking.
• Plus, Wobbly Metal Comics found its way out of my hidden notebooks and onto the front page.
All in all, a pretty positive year.
Okay, before we jump into the meat ’n’ pertaters, I’d like to quickly draw attention to the fact that I was completely leveled by quality releases this year. So much so, albums that could’ve/should’ve posed a threat are just now starting to get proper attention. High Spirits‘ You Are Here, Giant Squid‘s Minoans, StarGazer‘s A Merging to the Boundless, and Mortals‘ Cursed to See the Future are all prime examples. In war there are no unwounded soldiers.
20. While Heaven Wept – Suspended at Aphelion
• No other metal band wears their heart on their sleeve more brazenly than these dudes.
19. Old Wainds – Nordraum
• If you’re tired of black metal dicking around & not getting back to the business of freezing you to death, this album is for you.
18. Grand Magus – Triumph and Power
• A real return to form for this Swedish power trio, with a very satisfying emphasis on the POWER.
17. Atriarch – An Unending Path
• Great horny toads, this is an amazingly dark, insane and crushing album.
16. Polyptych – Illusorium
• Each song folds together seamlessly to serve an absolutely engrossing whole – just as the band’s name exemplifies.
15. Cardinal Wyrm – Black Hole Gods
• Seriously, this is one of the BEST active doom bands in the United States.
14. YOB – Clearing the Path to Ascend
• I feel sorry for those who seem incapable of resonating on this band’s wavelength.
13. Darkest Era – Severance
• WHY AREN’T MORE PEOPLE FLIPPING OUT ABOUT THIS ALBUM
12. Pallbearer – Foundations of Burden
• “I will not say, do not weep, for not all tears are an evil.” ~ “Who Shot” J.R.R. Tolkien
11. Agalloch – The Serpent & the Sphere
• I’m in the camp that feels Agalloch continues to get better with age… theirs and mine.
Top Ten of 2014:
10. Blut Aus Nord – Memoria Vetusta III – Saturnian Poetry
I was on board with the entire 777 trip. But I’ll admit that it’s mostly a one-play-and-out kind of thing when the mood to spin those records strikes these days. This year’s go-around, however, has proven to be a different story. Saturnian Poetry is excessively infectious, and it strikes an ideal balance between the immediately recognizable epic, melodic flair featured over the last few years, with a renewed and more intense focus on the beautifully warm hum of repetitive, raw black metal. I’ve seen a number of comparisons thrown toward Krallice-styled bands, but the relentless flailing and droning whirr highlighted on Saturnian Poetry scratches more of a Russian black metal itch for me. Buzzingly hypnotic, raw and epic, but with just enough of a melodic hook to catch in your head for weeks.
Vetusta III – Saturnian Poetry by BLUT AUS
9. Noble Beast – Noble Beast
An insanely shrewd man had this to say about Noble Beast‘s towering debut: “The Blind Guardian influence is arrogantly tattooed up and down the sleeves, but it’s all done with a level of expertise that’s frankly a bit shocking, considering this is the band’s first official foray. All the galloping, the fiery leads, the beer hall choruses – it’s 100% pure-grade power right from the gate and all the way through to the finish line.”
I don’t know who you are, sir, but I agree. In addition, I would add the following photo as a suitable expression of how I feel about this album…
8. Primordial – Where Greater Men Have Fallen
7. Sólstafir – Ótta
As a person who’s been prone to fair stretches of gloominess for the better part of his life, I often think about the root attraction of passionately somber music. Whether it’s a case of some perverse joy sparked by the misery, or perhaps a solacing familiarity that’s built up over time, the blanketing feeling of despair is something many of us have chosen to snugly embrace, particularly when it comes to music. Iceland’s Sólstafir – one of the current kings of engrossing post-metal/rock/whatever-the-hell – is a band perfectly suited for all the woe-fellows out there, and Ótta represents one of 2014’s most comforting, dreary salves. Beautifully dismal, truly unique, and infinitely rewarding.
6. Falconer – Black Moon Rising
Yes, this is the best power metal record of 2014. And yes, this is the best album Sweden’s Falconer have released to date. And YES, I finally have a year where I can feel 100% justified putting a bona fide power metal album in my top ten. Black Moon Rising exhibits all of the genre’s most sellable ingredients: It’s anthemic, uplifting, melodic, and… well, powerful. But it’s also aggressive, and it mostly avoids the overly jolly bullshit so many power metal bands insist on smuggling into the mix. Is it the type of record that’s dutifully bound to usher in droves of PM greenhorns? Probably not. Bardly romps such as “Scoundrel and the Squire” are sure to continue making staunch grimlords feel as uncomfortable as Corpsegrinder in a pear of yoga pants, but Black Moon Rising is an absolute gold mine for those of us more in touch with our inner Robin of Loxley.
5. Dead Congregation – Promulgation of the Fall
Some peckerwood had the following to say about this album in a review back in May: “…beautiful repulsiveness brought wriggling to life through exquisite regressive death metal that mocks the idea of reinventing the wheel as if it were sitting front-and-center at a Don Rickles show circa 1985.”
Seven months later, I still consider this malfeasance to be 2014’s best straight-up death metal album. A couple other selections came close, but nothing managed to elicit quite as much raw, cavemanic instinct compared to Promulgation of the Fall. Go back and listen to “Immaculate Poison” and remember how those crushing riffs make you feel dominant enough to wrestle a Silverback to the dirt and wear its pulverized teeth as your triumphant crown. Total annihilation.
of the Fall by Dead Congregation&amp;amp;lt;/a&amp;amp;gt;
4. Anatomy of Habit – Ciphers + Axioms
I’m confused as to why more people aren’t shitting their faces off for this album. Maybe it’s too weird? Not metal enough? Is it even metal? I don’t know anymore. It’s definitely different. And it also happens to be heavier than a boulder dubiously dangling 6-inches from your face. Additional adjectives include: Distressing, droning and alien – like an old Godflesh dump truck plowing straight through Coil‘s The Ape of Naples, and then parading the funeral like a veteran Melvins march. Weird shit. Awesome shit. Joist buckling shit. And the whole shootin’ match eventually drifts off into a prolonged loop of droney, woolly, celestial bliss.
Straightforward formula: Ciphers + Axioms = huge win.
3. Dawnbringer – Night of the Hammer
I was pretty weirded out the first time I sat down with Night of the Hammer. Something wasn’t working, whereas previous Dawnbringer efforts always managed to swiftly hit the mark. So there it sat, mostly unnoticed, until one morning when 4:30am poked my brain to life and I had nothing to do but acknowledge the absolute stillness of the hour. Turns out, that was the ideal time to get reacquainted with this beast, and it was instrumental in exposing just how absurdly dark a trip this is.
Everything about Night of the Hammer is morbid: From the modern take on Christina’s World that shapes the cover artwork, to the often boldly fatalistic lyrics, down to the slow & doomy gait that dominates the majority of its full 40 minutes – Night of the Hammer represents one of 2014’s most frighteningly bleak outings.
The end is approaching.
That none will survive.
Take off your armor.
Fall on your knife.
Fall on your own knife.
And run from your life.
Trust in Chris Black. This has become one of my primary heavy metal mantras.
Of The Hammer by DAWNBRINGER&amp;amp;lt;/a&amp;amp;gt;
2. Ambush – Firestorm
Obviously there’s no shortage of bands treading and re-re-re-treading the sort of heavy metal that ran amok in the very early 80s. But what we have right here, ladies and gents, is a Swedish delight comprised of classic Judas Priest bonking very early Dokken that sounds so originally 1980 that I’d recommend a full-scale investigation for time-traveling phone booths in-and-around a 100 mile radius of all Cirkel K’s in Växjö.
Yeah, I know there are a hundred of these fuckers storming around seemingly every corner, but Ambush simply does it better. The betterest, in fact. Firestorm has all the wailing, the rumbling, the gang-shouted background vocal’ing, and enough fiery leads to burn the robes right off old So-crates himself.
“Ok, wait… If you guys are really us, what number are we thinking of?”
[quadruple air guitar solo]
1. Impetuous Ritual – Unholy Congregation of Hypocritical Ambivalence
Brilliant. Asphyxiating, yet weirdly liberating in a terrifically inelegant manner. The murkiest contribution of bestial arrogance in 2014, by a long-shot.
I don’t have a clue what the hell they’re talking about, and I really do not care. Do not want to care. “Inert redundant philosophy, divinity of depletion. Intuit harmonic, abyssousal fate.” – Sure, I’ll take it. Just keep making me feel like I want to sprint into the woods, peel my duds, and take down a deer with my dag-blang teeth.
Virile. Vulgar. Raw as wolf balls in the winter. I love that the drums mostly sound like a demon viciously chopping down a tree. Leads wriggle and strike like Evil Dead’s possessed foliage. Vocals yowl and shriek like a furious pit-fiend. Unholy Congregation of Hypocritical Ambivalence is boomingly intense and unequaled in 2014. Totally unhinged.
Congregation Of Hypocritical Ambivalence by IMPETUOUS RITUAL</a>
Best EP of 2014
Necrot – The Abyss
Best Demo of 2014
Blood Incantation – Astral Spells
Best Song of 2014
YOB – “Nothing to Win”
Top Five Non-Metal Albums of 2014
1. Rome – A Passage to Rhodesia
2. Disemballerina – Undertaker
3. Hildur Guðnadóttir – Saman
4. John Luther Adams – Become Ocean
5. Vessel – Punish, Honey