Favourite Non-metal Releases from 2014

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I’ve really enjoyed writing about metal over the years. But I have to admit that some days I struggle to come up with a fresh turn of phrase. I still think there’s plenty of interesting metal to listen to and write about, so it’s not that my level of fandom or engagement is an issue. It’s simply that I’ve spent so long typing mainly about one genre of music. And the old creative wellspring seems to be running a little dry more frequently as a result.

I’m sure that’s a common enough problem for many writers, whatever genre they focus on. Some days you simply feel like you’re repeating yourself, and that’s not very inspiring. So, in order to keep my enthusiasm and ideas flowing in 2015, I’m going to be broadening the scope of Six Noises. I’ll still be covering plenty of metal, but you can also expect more gothic rock, deathrock, and punk rock, as well as more noise, drone, and hybrid sounds.

Essentially, I want to keep highlighting the bands that I like––whatever outré, sinister, or gloomy genre they dwell in. My taste in non-metal bands leans towards groups that share a similarly darkened aesthetic, in the main. So most of the non-metal music I cover will probably share a kindred perspective with a lot of metal anyway.

I thought I’d start things off with a rundown of some of my favourite non-metal releases from 2014. Releases that I think would have a lot of appeal for open-minded metal fans searching for some dark tunes from outside the genre’s borders.

I’ll be posting my favourite metal releases from 2014 in a few days time, and then we’re onto 2015. In the meantime, I hope you find something to perk your interest on the list below. Cheers, as always, for reading.

(If you’re interested, I posted my favourite New Zealand metal from 2014 here, and my favourite punk from 2014 here.)

Six Noises’ Favourite Non-metal Releases from 2014

Burial Hex: The Hierophant (Handmade Birds)
As one of multi-instrumentalist Clay Ruby’s last releases under his Burial Hex moniker, The Hierophant was replete with reverential sounds that superbly manifested Ruby’s desire for one last profound communion. The Hierophant defied mortality too: Ruby creating an album of purpose and meaning that will live on well past Burial Hex’s point of death. The Hierophant was unquestionably a masterpiece.

Barren Harvest: Subtle Cruelties (Handmade Birds)
Barren Harvest is a darkly poetic collaboration between Lenny Smith (Atriarch) and Jessica Way (Worm Ouroboros). Smith and Way created a haunting hybrid where neofolk mixed with ambient suites on Subtle Cruelties––with songs that swirled around in dark, whispering mists. Subtle Cruelties was simply breathtaking, with sounds both brittle and bruising rising and falling on beautiful tides.

Ben Frost: Aurora (Mute/Bedroom Community)
All of grim ambient composer Ben Frost’s previous releases have made for impressive adventures through dark and frostbitten environments. All have been unnerving and astounding in equal measure too. It was much the same with Aurora’s layered synths, samples, and menacing drones—another artistic triumph and bone-chilling masterpiece all in one.

Kevin Drumm and Jason Lescalleet: The Abyss (Erstwhile Records)
Kevin Drumm and Jason Lescalleet aptly dived into the deep, dark, and fathomless depths on The Abyss. The pair gleefully fucked with frequencies––and your head, while they were at it––as The Abyss’ digital destruction mixed harsh noise and epic, shadowy, and ambient drones.

Sleaford Mods: Divide and Exit (Harbinger Sound)

Divide and Exit, the latest album from UK electronic troublemakers Sleaford Mods, provided some of the very best punk rock sans the guitars in 2014. The duo spun street-wise class war tales, and crashing lo-fi beats were overlaid with take-no-prisoners (and always sharp-witted) tirades.

Ian William Craig: A Turn of Breath (Recital)
I’m not sure how to describe Ian William Craig’s A Turn of Breath. Craig’s a trained opera singer, and the heart-rending choral vocals on the album reflect that. But then, Craig takes those vocals and feeds them through distorting and often destructive tape manipulations. In the end, A Turn of Breath becomes something of a crumbling chapel. One glimpsed in the mist. Where sounds of the past echo in beautiful ruins.

Årabrot: I Modi 12″ (Fysisk Format)
I Modi presented more sonic madness (and eccentric genius) from one of Norway’s most important underground bands. Årabrot continued to carve their own idiosyncratic pathway through existentialism, occultism, and hallucinatory erotica on I Modi, wrapping all in the band’s off-kilter noise rock.

Pharmakon: Bestial Burden (Sacred Bones)
Pharmakon’s Margaret Chardiet took her experiences of surgery and recovery and made a noise and power electronics album that was visceral, unsettling, and red raw. Bestial Burden was not an easy listen by any means. But the body horror and harrowing noise on display was something to be held in awe.

Lawrence English: Wilderness of Mirrors (Room40)
Wilderness of Mirrors contained enough gloom and misery to test the hardiest of souls. Lawrence English’s doom ambient album was dense and ominous, and highly recommended for those who enjoy the skin-tingling feel of dark experimental electronica.

Perturbator: Dangerous Days (Blood-Music)
Paying homage to keyboard wizards such as John Carpenter, Tangerine Dream (RIP Edgar), and Vangelis, Perturbator’s Dangerous Days evoked the sights and sleaze of B-grade sci-fi, action and horror. If you’re a fan of slinky and shiny retro-synth––à la Zombi, Majeure or Umberto, with a dash of art-rockin’ electronica added on––then plug in.

Craig Leon: Anthology of Interplanetary Folk Music Vol. 1 (RVNGIntl.)
Anthology of Interplanetary Folk Music Vol. 1 collected Craig Leon’s two early 80s solo albums, Nommos and Visiting––one re-recorded, both remastered. The anthology featured cosmic-synth of the highest astral order. All inspired by Leon’s imagings of an alien race sharing their stories with us. Freaky? Damn right.

Sinoia Caves: Beyond the Black Rainbow Soundtrack (Jagjaguwar)
Sinoia Caves’ soundtrack to the film Beyond the Black Rainbow was filled with kosmische synthscapes, glorious ambient adventures, and third-eye-opening flights of fancy. Beyond the Black Rainbow drew its inspiration from obscure and otherworldly sci-fi, and was a superb and evocative score deserving of far more acclaim.

Crippled Black Phoenix: White Light Generator (Cool Green Recordings)
Founded by multi-instrumentalist Justin Greaves in 2004, and featuring a rotating line-up of post-rock luminaries, Crippled Black Phoenix released another sprawling masterwork with White Light Generator in 2014. Think Pink Floyd mixing with Godspeed You!, Black Emperor, and King Crimson, and that’s about the size of White Light Generator’s epic arrangements and eclecticism.

Earth: Primitive and Deadly (Southern Lord)
Primitive and Deadly was Dylan Carlson and co’s heaviest release in decades. But rather than simply being a magnificent (and rockin’) callback to a rawer era, Primitive and Deadly still sought out new territory. The album made use of finely tuned musical chemistry, and saw guest vocals add a layer of freshness too. However, what made Primitive and Deadly soar was Carlson’s leads––howling like never before.

Drcarlsonalbion: Gold (Self-released)
A couple of months before Earth released Primitive and Deadly, Dylan Carlson quietly released Gold under his Drcarlsonalbion moniker. Featuring 20-plus instrumental vignettes, Gold served as the soundtrack to Thomas Arslan’s western film of the same name. Much like Earth’s masterpiece Hex; Or Printing in the Infernal Method, Gold had that cinematic feel of dust bowls and wide-open prairies. Best of all, Carlson let loose with a gritty and bluesy snarl on occasion.

Einstürzende Neubauten: Lament (Mute)
Lament was a concept release: the result of the Belgian town of Diksmuide commissioning German industrial icons Einstürzende Neubauten to create a performance piece to mark one of the bloodiest clashes of the First World War. Einstürzende Neubauten’s clanging and crashing brought the chaos and horror. But Lament was no crater-strew landscape of noise. Instead, the album kept humanity alive with intimate tales, as all else went to hell.

Rome: Passage to Rhodesia (Trisol)
Rome’s singer-songwriter, Jérôme Reuter, has been releasing dazzling neo/martial-folk albums for around a decade, and Passage to Rhodesia was another sterling work. Reuter wove acoustic guitars and subtle electronics around his crooning vocals, all the while telling gripping tales from the Rhodesian Bush War.

Blood and Sun: White Storms Fall (Pesanta)
Blood and Sun create Heathen neofolk with a percussive stomp and an autumnal and Appalachian accent. White Storms Fall was all ringing strings and baritone vocals riding on frostbitten winds. Beautiful, bleak, and heavy.

Cult of Youth: Final Days (Sacred Bones)
Cult of Youth’s Final Days rested in the neofolk pool. But band founder Sean Ragon drew from punk and industrial on the album as he howled like a mad prophet while the end of days crept ever nearer.

Musk Ox: Woodfall (Self-released)
Canadian trio Musk Ox released their enthralling second album, Woodfall, in 2014. The five-part chamber folk suite mixed classical guitar, cello, and violin on songs that swept and soared over vast snow-covered landscapes. Mesmerising.

Bohren & der Club of Gore: Piano Nights (Ipecac)
Doom jazz band Bohren & der Club of Gore deal in slow motion tunes where deep dark chills reign supreme. Piano Nights was smooth yet sharp––and tinged with noir nastiness––with spine-tingling tempos, sinister saxophone, and minor-key eeriness sketching out its spectral songs.

Grouper: Ruins (Kranky)
Wistful, isolated, intimate, and of course atmospheric, Grouper’s Ruins was the perfect foil for anyone who ever said stripped-back ambient music is featureless. Ruins is rich and deep. At once calm, soothing, and emotionally crushing.

Swans: To Be Kind (Young God Records)
Do I need to explain this one? I mean, you’re either on board with the Swans or you’re not; they’re not a halfway measure kind of band after all. To Be Kind, the group’s third album since Michael Gira reincarnated the Swans in 2010, was another mammoth canvas slathered in ever-intensifying layers as Gira called down the gods. No surprises to find that To Be Kind was both magnificently intimidating and enrapturing.

Herukrat: I Bear Witness (Total Black 22)
Experimental musician Jackson Abdul-Salaam records under the name Herukrat, and his I Bear Witness album was an all-encompassing storm of head-splitting noise. More than that, I Bear Witness featured the mark of Abdul-Salaam’s conversion to Islam. Meaning I Bear Witness is a rare find in a genre so often interested in subversion and rejection, rather than worship or observance.

Comet Control: S/T (Teepee)
Comet Control features former members of Canadian psychedelic rock warriors Quest for Fire. Much like Quest for Fire, Comet Control deal in fuzzed-out rock. But as much as the band does the down and dirty lysergic journeying very well, Comet Control also soared through blissful and sunnier post-rock heights.

Goat: Commune (Rocket Recordings)
As they did on debut, the magical and mystical Swedish collective Goat found that perfect line between fevered ceremonial madness and mind-melting genius on Commune. With percussive voodoo funk, Afro-psych, and scorching wah-wah blasts, Commune set out on another tripped-out journey that was weird, wonderful, and wholly bewitching.

Cryo Chamber Collaboration: Cthulhu (Cryo Chamber)
Cthulhu found a dozen dark ambient artists from the Cryo Chamber label tapping into H.P. Lovecraft’s famed and foreboding mythos on a single 80-minute track. Cthulhu featured menacing drones that crept and slithered, and it was all wonderfully hair-raising and ice-cold.

Hateful Abandon: Liars/Bastards (Todestrieb Records)
Liars/Bastards comprised stygian synth and no-wave, and featured a martial ambience and pitch-black post-punk as well as post-industrial marches. That was all a somewhat different arrangement than Hateful Abandon’s more metallic past. But those changes also meant that Liars/Bastards was Hateful Abandon’s most impressive and individual work yet.

Horror Vacui: The Return of Empire (HPGD)
I hadn’t heard of vamp-tastic goth band Horror Vacui until very late in 2014. But spending time with their The Return of Empire album over the last couple of months has been an absolute blessing. The band’s “punker than dark, darker than punk” motto says it all; and The Return of Empire features plenty of post-punk propulsion running throughout the goth rock mix.

Lost Tribe: Solace (AVANT! Records/Mass Media Records)
With more bands than ever revisiting the darkest indie years for inspiration, this whole gothic and deathrock revival we’re experiencing of late is throwing bands at us left, right, and centre. One the very best is Lost Tribe, and the band’s Solace album is exactly the kind of atmospheric release that would clearly fuel renewed interested in gothic rock. With a dash of crust, a layer of anarcho-punk, and a veneer of post-punk added on, Solace is instantly addictive, and endlessly engrossing.

Cemetery: Collection (Mass Media Records)
Cemetery’s Collection LP from 2014 wasn’t technically a ‘new’ music release, given it collected all the band’s previous recordings onto one LP. But then, who cares about fussy details when you’ve got such a superb compendium of death/gothic rock that reeks of the unearthed old school, and yet still sounds so alive.

Shadowhouse: Hand in Hand (Mass Media Records)
Hearing Cemetery’s Collection LP led to me discovering Mass Media Records, and the rest of the label’s phenomenal roster. (See Dystopian Society, Moth, and https://massmediarecords.bandcamp.com/album/beyond-the-pale-lp, for a start.) That’s where I first heard Shadowhouse’s Hand in Hand album, and what a wonderfully fertile field of darkly romantic tunes it was too.

Menace Ruine: Venus Armata (Profound Lore)
Menace Ruine’s S. De La Moth and Geneviève Beaulieu create idiosyncratic and avant-garde music from another world and another time. The band’s latest album, Venus Armata, provided another mesmerising amalgamation of experimental, ambient and metallic sounds, with Beaulieu’s sibylline voice weaving around instrumentation that alternated between the scathing and shimmering.

Mamiffer: Statu Nascendi (SIGE)
Like Menace Ruine, Mamiffer also sits on that leading-edge of outsider art that’s reimagining the boundaries of metal, noise, and dark ambient sounds. The band’s latest release, Statu Nascendi, saw delicate vocal and instrumental passages ride astringent tides of noise. (While that ever-present feel of Mamiffer’s sacred cathedral of sound surrounded all.)

Gog: S/T (King Of The Monsters Records)
Much like Gog’s last album, Ironworks, the very best aspect of Michael Bjella’s experimentations on Gog’s self-titled 2014 album was that it was so evocative of its themes. This time, Gog investigated transformation, and each song on Gog aptly reshaped itself. Some songs featured violent fractures, almost tearing themselves limb from limb. Yet others dealt with often concealed pain—the gnawing ache of hidden despair.

Terence Hannum: Via Negativa (Utech)
Locrian multi-instrumentalist Terence Hannum’s 2014 solo release, Via Negativa, is a mesmerizing piece of minimalist artistry. Hannum built entrancing long-form songs from the slightest shifts in tone on Via Negativa, showing an astute awareness of how to wield the subtlest of elements to make stirring suites.

Anthroprophh: Outside the Circle (Rocket Recordings)
Anthroprophh’s Outside the Circle sounded like the mutated progeny of Mudhoney and Hawkwind. Or the wicked stepchild of the Stooges and the Guru Guru. Outside the Circle was loaded with wigged-out Kraut/space/garage rock. And you can add in a dose of amp-flaming and heady drone too. An A-grade trip. Guaranteed.

Earthling Society: England Have My Bones (Riot Season)
Earthling Society deals in mind-melting rock, somewhat akin to Anthroprophh. Although you get a heavy shock wave of free-noise thrown in on Earthling Society’s England Have My Bones. It’s all one long blast of hallucinogenic rock, and delirium drone. The perfectly tripped-out (and headphones-essential) sojourn.

New Model Army : Between Wine and Blood (Eagle)
New Model Army are currently having a hell of a late career resurgence. The band’s last full-length, 2013’s Between Dog and Wolf, was one of their best releases yet. And 2014’s six-track mini-album, Between Wine and Blood, is just as impassioned. The album also comes with an 11-track live release, and it’s all a thundering double-disc reminder that there’s a lot of life left in New Model Army yet.

Wold: Postsocial (Profound Lore)
Postsocial is another corrosive charge of black noise from Canadian duo Wold. The band sets the nerves on edge in the album’s first second, and never reduces the pressure. Forget melody, or any mercy, Postsocial is filled with the kind of hostile sonic pandemonium that mixes pain and pleasure in a back-breaking barrage.

Sunn O))) and Ulver: Terrestrials (Southern Lord)
Scott Walker and Sunn O))): Soused (4AD)

Sunn O))) provided a veritable bounty of treasures in 2014. First the band snuck out their LA Reh 012 demo––a raw return to the band’s ultra-minimalist roots. Then Sunn O))) released their magnificent Terrestrials collaboration with Oslo shape-shifters Ulver. (Which was, as expected, a sublimely dark and dramatic release.) Then, just to ramp up those dramatic stakes to the nth degree, along came Soused: Sunn O)))’s thunderous, theatrical, and always enthralling collaboration with avant-garde adventurer Scott Walker.

The Body (and Haxan Cloak): I Shall Die Here (RVNG Intl.)
Working with Bobby Krlic, the British electronic guru behind the Haxan Cloak, was the best decision the Body ever made. Oh sure, the Body made fantastic records before they met Krlic. I’m not denying that. But Krlic’s production and reconfiguring of the Body’s droning doom added more fathomless atmospherics, and darkened the skies above. I Shall Die Here is clearly a metal album. However, what made the release was Krlic twisting and tweaking everything with his ill-omened electronics.