Tis the Season: Part Six
If you’ve been following this Tis the Season round-up, or you’re just stopping by for the first time, then cheers. This is the final collection of end of year lists submitted to Six Noises from various contributors, and my thanks go out to everyone who threw a list my way this year.
Part six of Tis the Season below features lists from Chris Rigby (head-honcho of Subcide Zine, and bassist for trio Dying of the Light) and Tom Saunders (frequent contributor to UK heavyweight magazine Terrorizer). I’ll be back with my own countdown of metal picks from 2014 soon(ish). But, if you missed it, I already posted my favourite New Zealand metal releases from 2014 right here. And my favourite crusty punk/metal releases from this year right here.
Cheers to Chris and Tom. Here are their picks from ’14.
(20) We Came Out Like Tigers — Ever-Crushed at Pecket’s Well
A pissed-off, intensely political release from Liverpool in the UK. Sonically, the band is a bastardisation of folk, black metal and screamo/hardcore. It works surprisingly well.
(19) Diocletian — Gesundrian
If Dead Congregation wrote the best-crafted death metal album of 2014, and Teitanblood wrote the most terrifying, Diocletian wrote the tightest. No frills, just razor-sharp riffs, blistering drums, and commanding, oddly catchy vocals (See “Traitors Gallow” for example).
(18) Plebeian Grandstand — Lowgazers
Like Deathspell Omega, with a dirty, churning low-end, and some hardcore sensibilities. Lowgazers is a dense and suffocating blackened hardcore album. The band members might come primarily from screamo/hardcore backgrounds, but this is one of the nastiest metal albums of the year.
(17) High Spirits — You Are Here
Simple, catchy and hook-driven. You Are Here is like an album of pop songs, if they were recorded by a metal band. One of the most enjoyable releases of the year, and a great pallet-cleanser after complex listens like Swans, Schammasch or Teitanblood!
(16) Eyehategod — Eyehategod
EHG have returned to render most ‘sludgecore’ bands irrelevant. “Agitation! Propaganda!” Has a punky aggression to it, and “Medicine Noose” is downright terrifying. It doesn’t have the same impact as Dopesick, but it’s great to hear the band put out such a good album after a lengthly break.
(15) Teitanblood — Death
The best of the chaotic black/death bands return to show everyone how it’s done. Death is the sonic equivalent of having your face held against a belt sander for 60-odd minutes. There are some fantastic grooves buried in the murk here.
(14) Panopticon — Roads to the North
Perhaps the best Panopticon album to date. Not as striking as Kentucky, but it sounds more confident and cohesive. The melodic death metal touches in the opening tracks are a nice surprise as well.
(13) Schammasch — Contradiction
The most ambitious black metal album of the year. “Songs like Split My Tongue” and “Provoking Spiritual Collapse” are straight-up anthems, whereas “The Inner World” and “JHWH” are complex and progressive.
(12) Pallbearer — Foundations of Burden
If the Yob album is a forward-forward thinking doom album, Foundations of Burden is atavistic to its very core. What makes Pallbearer’s second album so good is its reverence for Candlemass. This is as much a traditional heavy metal album as it is a doom album, and it’s immensely enjoyable because of it.
(11) Wovenhand — Refractory Obdurate
Another album that defies classification. At times psychedelic, at times hard-rocking, and often beautiful, this album is strange and captivating in equal measure. “The Refractory” is one of the best songs of the year, spine tingling.
(10) Thou — Heathen
Stormy. That’s the best way to describe Heathen. The towering, 74-minute doom album has a thick, stormy atmosphere. Combine this with some amazing riffs, and a surprising amount of melody, and you get one of the best doom albums of the year. Like Behemoth, this came out relatively early in 2014 and has remained in constant rotation, and like Swans, despite its length, Heathen is never an arduous listen.
(9) Dead Congregation — Promulgation of the Fall
Dead Congregation might shamelessly worship at the altar of Incantation, but with all those riffs they stole, they crafted 40 minutes of perfect death metal. A lot of attention to detail has gone into Promulgation of the Fall. All of the songs flow seamlessly into one another, giving the impression that the album is one 40-minute-long composition. Unlike a lot of their peers, Dead Congregation don’t mess about with hokey interludes; all of the atmosphere comes from the songs themselves. It might not be wholly original, but it is excellently composed. The evident care that went into this album elevates Dead Congregation above the recent glut of ‘new wave of old school death metal’ bands.
(8) Punch — They Don’t Have to Believe
Hands down the best hardcore album of 2014. Fast, immediate music, with riffs and breakdowns aplenty. Although the album is made up of lots of very short songs, it almost ebbs and flows as a continuous piece for the sub-20-minute run time. Punch know exactly when to speed things up, or slow things down. Meghan’s vocals might be like paint stripper, but that’s kind of the point. Her lyrics are incredibly poignant as well; “Worth More Than Your Opinion” and “Personal Space” are particularly visceral attacks on sexism.
(7) Agalloch — The Serpent and the Sphere
If there’s one album that deserves more time than a lot of people will have given it, it’s The Serpent and the Sphere. Whilst initially feeling like an underwhelming regression for Agalloch after the expansive, boundary-pushing Marrow of the Spirit, The Serpent and the Sphere offers a lot in its own right. This is probably the most straightforward album Agalloch have written; certainly the most straightforward since Pale Folklore. Despite the shorter compositions, it’s still a very dense album, with each song revealing a surprising amount of depth on repeated listens, be it the infectious melodies of “Dark Matter Gods”, the strangely haunting lyrics of “Celestial Effigy”, or the slow, unfurling “Birth and Death of the Pillars of Creation”. In short, if you wrote this album off prematurely, go back and listen to it. You may be pleasantly surprised.
(6) Godflesh — A World Lit Only By Fire
Decline and Fall was decent, but A World Lit Only By Fire is Godflesh’s real return, and what a mighty return it is. “New Dark Ages” sounds like an industrial Celtic Frost song, and “Shut Me Down” might be the most pissed-off song of the year. The band sound revitalised, and angry. Does it reinvent the rulebook? No. Is it probably the best Godflesh record we could have hoped for in 2014? Yes. The album avoids getting too overbearing by allowing the compositions to become more expansive as the record goes on, finishing on the haunting “Forgive Our Fathers”.
(5) Primordial — Where Greater Men Have Fallen
What makes Where Greater Men Have Fallen so good is that it is inspired as much by heavy metal as it is by black metal. A. A. Nemtheanga’s voice soars over pounding drums and enormous, galloping riffs. Every song on this album oozes sincerity. Nowhere is this more evident than the heart-wrenching “Come the Flood”, where Alan sings, “Not a thousand years of rain, could wash the blood from these hands!”. Primordial capture the spirit of heavy metal better than any of the self-consciously retro bands, because the music has a real gravitas and vision to it.
(4) Sólstafir — Ótta
Ótta is as beautiful as it is subtle. It’s difficult to explain why it’s so good, because the album defies genre classification. The combination of heart-wrenching vocals, an all-consuming atmosphere, and constantly shifting dynamics probably has something to do with it. Let’s not forget the almost western twang on the title track either! Ótta might be difficult to talk about, but be sure of this: it’s a subtle, beautiful, and ultimately highly rewarding listen.
(3) Swans — To Be Kind
Swans put out the most ambitious album of 2014. To Be Kind is a genuinely monumental record. Whilst The Seer was also long and ambitious (both clock in at the 2-hour mark), To Be Kind overshadows it by being so much more playful. It’s an intense album for sure, but Swans also sound like they’re having fun. For such a long album, it’s surprisingly memorable as well. Be it the main melody in “Oxygen”, the chorus in “Nathalie Neal”, or Gira’s shouting “I NEED LOVE!” on “Just a Little Boy”, the sprawling 2-hour epic is littered with hooks to keep the listener coming back. It’s an unhinged, creative, vibrant and surprising album, which cannot be recommended enough.
(2) Behemoth — The Satanist
2014 has been Behemoth’s year, no doubt. The Satanist is one of the most vital-sounding big releases to come from extreme metal in a long time. “Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel” is a formidable statement of intent, and the album never lets up. Closing the album with the even more spectacular “O Father, O Satan, O Sun!” has ensured the album’s enduring appeal since its release early in the year. A triumphant, gloriously evil album.
(1) Yob — Clearing the Path to Ascend
The standout metal album of 2014. It was excellent the first time round, and it gets better on every listen. “Nothing to Win” is pure Through Silver in Blood-era Neurosis worship. “Marrow” and “Unmask the Spectre” are both jaw-droppingly beautiful doom tracks. The album opener, “In Our Blood”, whilst not quite as immediately gratifying, certainly reveals its depth over time as well. Overall, Clearing the Path to Ascend is a fantastic doom album, which manages to be forward-thinking without ever straying too far outside of the genre constraints. A true rarity in a genre which can be so atavistic.
Top 14 for 2014…
Godflesh — A World Lit Only by Fire/Decline & Fall*
A new Godflesh release will always land at #1 on my list. As there was also an EP that came out this year, both of these releases, the first from them in 13 years, sit in this position. Godflesh are back like they never left!
Malevolence — Relentless Entropy*
They’ve been around for over 20 years now, and constantly get better every time I hear them. Relentless Entropy is testament to that. Modern technical grindcore at its best.
Diocletian — Gesundrian*
With refreshed line-up, Diocletian show that their wall of chaotic war noise still sounds like a wall of chaotic war noise when a better production is applied. Just bigger and more defined. The best from them yet.
Shihad — FVEY
It’s been nearly 20 years since I last got excited about a new Shihad album. With Jaz Coleman back producing, anticipation for this one turned out to be justified. FVEY stayed on my car stereo for at least 6 weeks after its release. Much like Killing Joke albums that have been released over the past decade, FVEY is an album of gritty, high-energy metallic rock. It doesn’t grab instantly, but grows on you, getting better and better upon each successive listen. Just like all great albums should.
Vassafor/Sinistrous Diabolus — Split*
The best Vassafor recording yet, and a great intro for what’s yet to come from Sinistrous Diabolus. Both of my favourite NZ bands together on the one slab of wax.
Bulletbelt — Rise of the Banshee
The second Bulletbelt album of solid stadium black metal. Bigger with better tunes. Bulletbelt are fast becoming NZ’s hardest-working metal band!
Exordium Mors — The Apotheosis of Death*
More polished and melodic than their previous material, but musically more evolved. Like Bulletbelt did on Rise of the Banshee, The Apotheosis of Death is another step in the endless journey to perfection for Exordium Mors. Both bands should do a co-headlining tour together.
Laibach — Spectre
I’ve always had a soft spot for Laibach. Although not as grandiose as their traditional material, Spectre delivers. Opening track “The Whistleblowers” (an anthem celebrating the likes of Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange) is a family hit around my house.
Nausea — Condemned to the System
I checked this album out without any expectations and was pleasantly surprised. Being the main project of original Terrorizer vocalist Oscar Garcia since 1988, Condemned to the System is everything that a follow-up album to World Downfall should have been.
Eyehategod — Eyehategod
I love this band’s debut, In the Name of Suffering. Although I’ve followed Eyehategod ever since, I always thought they never did much more on their subsequent albums than retread the same ground but in better studios. That’s why this 2014 self-titled album is on my top 14 list. After a hiatus of quite a few years, EHG have returned, and without reinventing the wheel they have added a freshness to their sound. Still sounding depraved as all fuck, they’ve managed to add sometimes contradicting factors to their music. These factors include, but are not limited to, memorable songs, invigorating beats, and upbeat tones.
Internal Bleeding — Imperium*
Chris Pervelis from Internal Bleeding was the first person I sent a questionnaire interview to (and received a completed interview back from) for Subcide Zine back in 1993 — and thanks to the wonders of social media I’ve regained contact with him. (The actual first in-person interview for Subcide Zine was with Tom from Shihad). A few years back, Internal Bleeding re-formed, and after revisiting some of the band’s mid/late ’90s releases, I wasn’t expecting much from Imperium, but I was pleasantly surprised! Much like New Zealand band Carnal, Internal Bleeding have taken the ‘slam’ genre (something I despised in the mid ’00s due to its relentless yet boring upfront triggered kick drums and technical riffs for the sake of technical riffs) and done something really fresh and invigorating with it. I’m looking forward to writing the full review for this!
Midnight — No Mercy for Mayhem/Alive on the Streets of Cleveland
Whilst the No Mercy doesn’t quite match up to its predecessor, Satanic Royalty, this release is worth it for the bonus live disc, which captures Midnight at their black rock ‘n’ roll best!
Overkill — White Devil Armory
With over 3 decades of history behind them, Overkill have been putting out some of their strongest and angriest albums in recent years. This is one of them.
Ok, so this is actually more a top 15. Only because the new AC/DC album, a late entrant, bumped Shellac off of the 14th position. But, as my Scottish heritage and nature of hoarding won’t allow me to let go of shit, both releases get to sit on the same seat. As Steve Albini is a huge AC/DC fan, I’m sure if he actually gave a shit, he wouldn’t mind either. Both albums are loyal to their creators’ sound and, as Angus Young would say, they feel good, like putting on an old shoe.
*Indicates that a full and probably well overdue review of these releases is to be published on Subcide before the close of 2014.