I didn’t mean to do a blitz this year. I really didn’t. In case you missed the story last year, that troublesome “personal life” thing prevented me from keeping up with all the great stuff coming out, so I ended up crushing it all into the final weeks of the year. It was quite an undertaking – stressful, challenging, yet strangely fulfilling. However, nothing I’d want to do again. So of course, this is how the year went:
So here I sat halfway through November having missed more albums than I cared to remember, thanks to a several-months obsession with outlaw and classic country music. Between stuff I had wanted to hear and stuff others thought I should hear (and were deeming best-of worthy), the list was even longer than last year. The figurative bodies were flying and falling like so many leaves in the autumn winds, so much so that at one of our unofficial staff meetings I blurted out “I’ve got 17 down and 4 to go.” I was cramming so much metal in my ears I had forgotten how to do basic math! So the joke became that my top 20 went to 21.
Not the most interesting story, but unless you want to hear about how many times I listened to “Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down” or how my Spring and Summer days were often soundtracked by The Highwaymen, it’s all you’re going to get.
21. Repaid in Blood – Born in a Lazarus Pit / Desecrater – Wretched
The bonus slot is shared by these two bands I’ve been following and supporting for nearly a decade over here in the Bay Area. After a number of demos, singles, and EPs, they each finally released their debut full-lengths. The former is a fine take on the heavy end of the metalcore spectrum; the latter is simple, ugly thrash cranked up to 12.
20. Young and In the Way – When Life Comes to Death
I don’t know what kind of name that is for a caustic black metal band, but I do know that they would cut me if they ever heard me ask that.
19. Saor – Aura
Soaring pagan black metal driven by the mighty fife.
18. Freedom Call – Beyond
The “Acme” (as in generic) of power metal bands achieved their personal acme (as in high point) with an album that is just flat out fun.
17. Cripple Bastards – Nero In Metastasi
One moment I’m pressing ‘play’, and the next, Cripple Bastards is on this list. I don’t know what happened in between.
16. Cannibal Corpse – A Skeletal DomainTime -tested and road-rotted, they remain as reliable and relevant as ever with their strongest effort since Kill.
15. Pallbearer – Foundations of Burden
I finally saw the greatness of this band, it’s just not something I would listen to regularly.
14. Sabaton – Heroes
Huge sound, huge album, and a huge mistake by me to not have really checked them out until now.
13. These Are They – At the Feast of Seven Funerals
Old school death metal with a modern flair and November’s Doom vocalist Paul Kuhr delivering the low, coherent growls.
12. Prong – Ruining Lives
To quote myself, “Ruining Lives just might be the most purely metal sounding thing Prong has ever done,” and the most complete album since Cleansing.
11. Godflesh – A World Lit Only By Fire
10. HORRENDOUS – ECDYSIS
Any number of years ago, I probably wouldn’t have even bothered to listen to a band with such a dull moniker, simply assuming it was an apt descriptor. That would have been a huge mistake here. It’s a death metal album that doesn’t really care if it’s death metal or not. There is enough variation in here to satisfy almost any fan of a subgenre of extreme music while making them forget how much they dislike the others.
9. DEVIN TOWNSEND PROJECT – Z2
I was disappointed when Devin Townsend announced this would be a double album (one traditional Devin Townsend Project; the other the Ziltoid sequel.) It seemed a bit excessive, and I feared it would detract from the Ziltoid spectacle. You’d think I’d know by now not to doubt Devin Townsend. The two discs are perfectly complementary in a supplementary kind of way; they could have easily been released individually. But, if the first disc (Sky Blue) isn’t heavy enough for you, the second disc (Dark Matters) makes up for it in spades. Alternately, if the second disc is too goofy for you, the first one is about as straightfaced as Devin gets.
8. THANTIFAXATH – SACRED WHITE NOISE
Another surprise entry to the list. Thantifaxath won me over by keeping things simple yet complex, raw yet refined. You can hear all of the lo-fi tendencies, but they sound rich and full. Harsh and frosty, the blissfully, blisteringly grim riffs penetrate straight to the most reptilian parts of my brain and sooth even the darkest rivulets of thought. Holy crap, did I just write that? Hell, I don’t even pretend to know a lot about black metal, so I’m probably way, way off anyway.
7. exodus – BLOOD IN, BLOOD OUT
I don’t recall if the split with Rob Dukes was amicable or not, but was I ever glad to hear about it. Exodus was starting to get bloated and stagnant, though that may not have been entirely his doing. The return of Zetro has breathed new life into the old dogs once again, and the result is their rippingest album since – yes, you guessed it – Tempo of the Damned.
6. cretin – stranger
Some people would say that this was released too late in the year to get serious consideration. I say, “Have you HEARD the damn thing?!” I played Freakery quite a bit but never got all that into it. Stranger, on the other hand, grabbed by by the throat and balls at the same time and squeezed as hard as it could. Mercy was eventually given, but only because the playing time was up, and by then I was a dead-eyed, quivering mess.
5. Bloodbath – grand morbid funeral
If you’re Madison Bumgarner, you dominate in the World Series; if you’re Bloodbath, you play old school death metal with an all-star cast. That’s just the way it goes. For their first album in six years, Nick Holmes (Paradise Lost) picks up the vocalist mantle from Mikael Akerfeldt (Storm Corrosion), and despite not having recorded a death growl in over 20 years, handles the job with ease. Take note, you danged kids with your fancy blast beats and eleventeen-string guitars – death metal doesn’t get much better than this.
4. iron reagan – the tyranny of will
Looking back now, I can’t believe I was a Ronald Reagan supporter in the 80s. To be fair, though, I was still in grade school and didn’t know any better. But I digress. The moniker is still an eye-roller, but apropos with their thrash/punk crossover style straight from the “me” decade. Yet, somehow, they make it sound fresh and almost unique to the “meme” decade.
3. falconer – black moon rising
I’ve been flying the banner of Falconer since the beginning (or prior, if you count Mithotyn); I celebrate their entire catalog that isn’t titled Grime Vs. Grandeur. With Black Moon Rising, it looks like the masses are finally starting to catch up. Exquisitely crafted with their medieval fair flair scaled back to still be noticeable but not distract from the driving, soaring musicianship.
Not sure what more I can say that I didn’t already say here. But in a word, mindblowing.
Of all the “big” releases in 2014, this was the only one that lived up to the hype. Continuing along the trajectory that began with Ironbound and continued with The Electric Age, Overkill continue to hone their craft even as their members roar into their mid-fifties. Gives an old guy like me hope that I can still achieve great things – but maybe not this great.
Connoisseur – Stoner Justice
I don’t particularly care for grind or weed; this one got me excited for both.
Onkel Tom – H.E.L.D.
Tom Angelripper resurrected this project and I couldn’t have been more excited… then I couldn’t have been more disappointed. His loose, thrashing take on traditional German folk and drinking songs have always been a hoot, but none of that fun is to be found here. A darker, more serious (and less thrashy) album for darker more serious times, I suppose. But then what’s the point?
I got very excited when I saw this was released. I tracked it down immediately. I listened to it with great enjoyment, and just a bit of puzzlement. Then it hit me: it was Wayfarer that I was a fan of. But this was a great slab of epic, pagan doom in its own right.
Album that almost made the list strictly based on one track
Apostle of Solitude – Of Woe and Wounds
Just listen…Non-metal favorites
Sturgill Simpson – Metamodern Sounds in Country Music
Casualties of Cool – Casualties of Cool
Les Claypool’s Duo de Twang – Four Foot Shack
Johnny Cash – Out Among the Stars
Weezer – Everything Will Be Alright in the End
So there you go. I have literally pushed this to the last minute, so this part needs to be brief. Thank you to the Last Rites staff for keeping me around, picking me up when I’m down, and kicking me down when I’m up. No more blitzes. Next year will be different. I promise.