Favourite Metal Albums Of 2014

Atriarch

Normally, I’d have posted the list of my favourite metal albums from 2014 back in December last year. But at that time I was busy dealing with (read: freaking out about) a health crisis. Being poorly wasn’t all bad news though. I suddenly found myself with a lot of free time to listen to music. Plus, when I was feeling well enough to start writing again, all of the end-of-year hoopla was long gone, along with the pressure to meet any deadlines.

The thing is, though, all of that extra time wasn’t exactly beneficial in editorial terms. Free time with no deadline meant I listened to albums without the usual cutthroat critical ear required to trim an end-of-year list down. So rather than curtailing my catalogue of contenders from 2014, I kept stumbling on more great albums, and I ended up expanding my list of favourites along the way.

I could have condensed the list. Or made some kind of attempt to rank it. And sure, maybe some ruthless culling would have been a good idea.

But what’s the point of having your own blog floating about in the backwaters of the internet if you can’t overindulge once in a while?

So, yeah. There are a lot of albums on the list below. But I’m not claiming that every one of them is a top contender for the best metal release of 2014. These are simply the albums that I kept turning to to get me through some tough times last year. In the end, that’s the criteria I think the music that counts most in this world has to meet. Tough tunes, for tougher times.

See my lists of:

Foreseen HKI: Helsinki Savagery (20 Buck Spin)
Here’s the finest eruption of turbo-speed crossover thrash from 2014. Foreseen’s Helsinki Savagery was a gnashing and crashing free-for-all from its very first second to its last. Ugly as sin. And all the better for it.

Sólstafir: Ótta (Season of Mist)
More sublime musings from Icelandic cowboys Sólstafir. Ótta climbed to exquisite heights with gracious and soulful tracks, and when those heavier passages and always breathtaking imagery crept into view, you had all the makings of pre-eminent artistry.

Vorde: S/T (Fallen Empire)
Skáphe: S/T (Fallen Empire)
Death Fortress, Aureole, and Xothist all released excellent albums for label Fallen Empire in 2014. But the powerful and esoteric self-titled debuts from Vorde and Skáphe were even better. (Also, check out the Fallen Empire’s new batch of releases from early 2015: Misþyrming’s Söngvar elds og óreiðu being a top contender for 2015’s end-of-year list frenzy already.)

Atriarch: An Unending Pathway (Relapse)
Atriarch combined doom and black metal with gothic rock, deathrock, and myriad Stygian influences to create a truly sui generis atmosphere on An Unending Pathway. The band tore reality asunder, with their sonic weight and emotional totality crushing hopes, and then smashing dreams.

Nightfell: The Living Ever Mourn (Southern Lord)
Nightfell features guitarist/vocalist Todd Burdette (Tragedy, Warcry, etc) and drummer Tim Call (Aldebaran, Weregoat, and many more). And The Living Ever Mourn contains plenty of doomy death metal dirges, crusty crossover snarls, and an aura of deep and dark Gothic eeriness.

Sempiternal Dusk: S/T (Dark Descent)
Nightfell’s The Living Ever Mourn wasn’t the only intimidating album that Tim Call drummed on last year either. There was also Sempiternal Dusk’s self-titled, full-length debut, which featured 50 chest-crushing minutes of woebegone void-gazing, and slow-motion slides into chasms of catastrophe.

Barghest: The Victorious Purge (Gilead Media)
Thou: Heathen (Gilead Media)
Thou’s Heathen album sat (deservedly) high on many end-of-year lists in 2014, as the band’s sludge/doom/drone had a stunning emotional impact. Equally impressive, and also from label Gilead Media’s ranks, were the wrathful sonics found on Barghest’s The Victorious Purge. That album’s vicious black and death metal diatribes deserve deep appreciation.

Impetuous Ritual: Unholy Congregation of Hypocritical Ambivalence (Profound Lore)
Unholy Congregation of Hypocritical Ambivalence was another swarm of pitch-black noise from Impetuous Ritual. Peel back that tumultuous and gruesome scab that greets you, and you’ll find … well, even more darkness and madness. Proving no one does demented and brutal death metal like Impetuous Ritual.

Khthoniik Cerviiks: Heptaedrone (Iron Bonehead)
Well, I say no one does demented death metal like Impetuous Ritual. But Khthoniik Cerviiks took a bite out of the bestial and insane sonics prize with Heptaedrone in 2014. Barbaric black and death metal intertwined on Heptaedrone, with almost avant/astral-jazz lurches to and fro featuring too.

Sivyj Yar: From the Dead Villages’ Darkness (Avantgarde Music)
Old Wainds: Nordraum (Negative Existence)
Russian (one-man) band Sivyj Yars dealt in stirring scenery and sweeping melodies on From the Dead Villages’ Darkness, helped along by the album’s pitch- and picture-perfect lo-fi production. Fellow Russians Old Wainds took a different path on Nordraum, cutting through the weak and unworthy with ice-cold blizzards of tremolo riffs. As well as plenty of skin-flailing percussion.

Skogen: I Döden (Nordvis)
Saor: Aura (Northern Silence)
Skogen and Saor both dealt in dramatic black and folk metal on their respective releases in 2014. Pick up Saor, and it’s the Scotland’s highlands you’ll be instantly travelling over. Take a journey with Skogen, and it’s Sweden’s forests you’ll be thundering through. Either way, both bands made hugely evocative and involving albums. And both are well worth tracking down.

Thantifaxath: Sacred White Noise (Dark Descent)
Thantifaxath dispensed ingeniously warped black metal on Sacred White Noise. Certainly, if the Deathspell Omega school of mixing a hearty dose of the outré with the traditional appeals, then rest assured that Sacred White Noise was a standout pupil in that regard.

Monarch: Sabbracadaver (Profound Lore)
Is there a heavier doom/drone trio than Monarch? It’s not just about the dense pressure-wave of noise the band summoned on Sabbracadaver. It’s also about those ten tonnes of bleakness. Combined, that brought an emotional mass of unparalleled magnitude.

Artificial Brain — Labyrinth Constellation (Profound Lore)
Generally, the amount of time I put aside to listen to technical and/or progressive death metal is miniscule. It’s really not my thing. Except, somehow, Artificial Brain’s Labyrinth Constellation is my thing. Perhaps because—like other technically dazzling bands, such as Gorguts or Ulcerate—there’s something utterly transfixing about Artificial Brain’s ability to use such complex compositional architecture to build such mesmerising songs.

Abigor: Leytmotif Luzifer (Avantgarde Music)
Leytmotif Luzifer is one of those albums that serves as a great reminder that, at one point in time, black metal used to be kind of unnerving. Original vocalist Silenius is back on board on Leytmotif Luzifer––spitting out his unholy incantations. While guitars shriek and drums pound through seven perfectly sacrilegious sermons.

Dead Congregation: Promulgation of the Fall (Martyrdoom/Profound Lore)
Dead Congregation obviously respect the ways of the old guard of death metal. But they’re a band interested in furthering that vein of artistry, rather than simply repeating it. Certainly, Promulgation of the Fall was packed with riffs inspired by an elder age. But there was nothing stale about the dominance of the contents therein.

 

Volahn: Aq’Ab’Al (Crepúsculo Negro)
Volahn is the most fascinating band to have emerged from the Black Twilight Circle. Don’t get me wrong, Odz Manouk and Blue Hummingbird on the Left are very interesting bands. And Arizmenda’s Stillbirth in the Temple of Venus provided moments of vitriolic brilliance in 2014. However, the way Volahn weaves Mayan cultural identity into black metal makes for a unique and powerful statement. There’s no question that Aq’Ab’Al was the strongest black metal album from 2014 as a result; even the rough-as-guts cassette copy I first heard was proof of that.

Woods of Desolation: As the Stars (Northern Silence Productions)
Woods of Desolation’s third full-length, As the Stars, was replete with echoing howls and scintillating lo-fi guitars. It was mournful, and crestfallen, with deep shadowy gorges of sadness to wallow in. Yet, when the swells of melodic riffs rose, to turn towards the sun, As The Stars became something utterly beautiful. Something altogether triumphant.

Nasheim: Solens vemod (Northern Silence Productions)
It took 11 years from Nasheim’s first demo to the release of the one-man band’s debut, Solens vemod, in 2014. Still, for anyone hanging in there over the years, Solens vemod was ample reward. There wasn’t an atmospheric black metal album that came close to summoning the ambience or maintaining such a mesmerizing tenor like Solens vemod did in 2014.

Swallowed: Lunarterial (Dark Descent Records)
Emptiness: Nothing but the Whole (Dark Descent Records)
Emptiness’ Nothing but the Whole was a tour-de-force of black/death metal weirdness; an album that constructed a surreal atmosphere in the depths of an already hallucinatory horrorscape. Swallowed’s Lunarterial was uber-fiendish-and-fetid, more akin to some delirium-induced Lovecraftian nightmare—with gruesome death and doom conjurations, crawling up from the caverns.

Falls of Rauros: Believe in No Coming Shore (Blindrune Recordings)
If you’re a fan of atavistic, nature-centric, and anarchic black metal, then Believe in No Coming Shore is an album you need to hear. Falls of Rauros’ third full-length was melancholic, and heavily melodic, with acoustic movements and steelier riffing combining on an album that was sorrowful in parts, but always invigorating.

Battleroar: Blood of Legends (Cruz del Sur Music)
Blood of Legends was a big, bold and bombastic album, containing everything you’d expect from a stirring power metal release. Of course, it’s those theatrical elements that made Blood of Legends such a storming release. It was a grand statement. An impassioned release. And a hell of a lot of fun.

Wolvhammer: Clawing into Black Sun (Profound Lore)
Coffinworm: IV​.​I​.​VIII (Profound Lore)
Wolvhammer’s Clawing into Black Sun and Coffinworm’s IV​.​I​.​VIII were both loaded to the gunnels with blackened sludge visions of doom and gloom. Sometimes, that’s exactly the kind of nightmarish music you need to restore some balance in life. And Clawing into Black Sun and IV​.​I​.​VIII certainly made for magnificently monstrous elixirs in that sense.

Execration: Morbid Dimensions (Hells Headbangers)
If you want to see a Grammy awarded in a fashion that represents an understanding of the contemporary metal landscape, then look to Norway and death metal band Execration’s Morbid Dimensions album winning the coveted Spellemanprisen prize for best metal album. Morbid Dimensions featured straight-down-the-line and perfectly executed trashing death metal. It was technically impressive. Rhythmically diverse. With all the churning and steamrolling riffs you’ll desire.

Indian: From All Purity (Relapse)
Back in January 2014, Indian released From All Purity, and no sludge band even came close to eclipsing its hideousness all year. From All Purity was ultra harsh and heavy. Musically, it was a deluge of abrasive noise. Emotionally, From All Purity was challenging, taxing, and punishing. But if you made it through, it was a goddamn glorious exorcism.

Fistula: Vermin Prolificus (PATAC Records)
Essentially, Vermin Prolificus was a noxious and nasty swamp of ear-splitting feedback and fuzzed-out noise. Which, of course, meant it was the perfect album to listen to if when looking to experience disgusting events through a filthy and baked-to-the-fucking-gills lens.

Panopticon: Roads to the North (Bindrune)
Like Panopticon’s previous work, Roads to the North didn’t feature any lightweight diversions. The album’s crusty black metal hooks were perfectly jagged. The soul-stirring folk reeked of campfires. And there was a heavier presence of melodic death metal on the album too. All up, Roads to the North’s darkly atmospheric metal saw band founder Austin Lunn crossing boundaries and rearranging his take on black metal where he saw fit––ignoring the rules, as he has always done.

Jute Gyte: Vast Chains and Ressentiment (Jeshimoth Entertainment)
The experimental black metal you’ll find on Jute Gyte’s two albums from 2014, Vast Chains and Ressentiment, is unorthodox, to say the least. Band founder, Adam Kalmbach, uses microtonal guitar to access unsettling sounds. Songs pitch and weave with rhythmic madness, and everything is so off-kilter that Vast Chains and Ressentiment are as much abstract art as they are black metal.

High Spirits: You Are Here (Hells Headbangers)
Chris Black released two albums in 2014––Dawnbringer’s Night of the Hammer and High Spirits’ You Are Here. It’s the second of those that’s the standout for me. You Are Here provided plenty of metallic stonk and classic rock whizz––in a ripping cavalcade of early-80s riffs, energy, hooks, and melodic vocals. You Are Here was righteous heavy metal, riding the red-hot rails of relentless rock ‘n’ roll.

The Great Old Ones: Tekeli-li (Les Acteurs de L’Ombre)
French post-black metal band The Great Old Ones delve into HP Lovecraft’s pantheon of cosmic horror, forbidden knowledge, and supernatural threat for inspiration. The band’s debut, 2012’s Al-Azif, was impressive––bringing plenty of metaphysical terror––and 2014’s Tekeli-li was even better. Tekeli-li tapped into that Lovecraftian sphere of trepidation and foreboding with plenty of chills and musical thrills.

Darkspace: Dark Space III I (Avantgarde Music)
Dark Space III I arrived six years after the last album from black metal/dark ambient band Darkspace. Still, it was more than worth the wait. The cosmic mysticism that Darkspace explored on Dark Space III I was replete with extraterrestrial eeriness. Darkspace explored the far reaches via mind-melting drones, ice-cold black metal riffing, and fittingly unearthly synthscapes.

11Paranoias: Stealing Fire From Heaven (Ritual Productions)
Stealing Fire from Heaven featured sludgy doom and super-heavy psychedelia meeting in a brain-boiling explosion. 11Paranoias includes members from Bong and Ramesses, so that’s the otherworldly, fuzz and buzz, and sky-high requirements catered for too. Best of all, Stealing Fire from Heaven was recorded on the fly, with everything up for grabs on down-tuned and long-form jams into infinity.

Yob: Clearing the Path to Ascend (Neurot)
Yob’s Clearing the Path to Ascend was an utter colossus, a towering giant of an album. One that climbed to thundering heights, and matched that trajectory with a spiritual vision that was just as grand.

Ambush: Firestorm (High Roller Records)
Swedish five-piece Ambush did a fine job of mimicking Judas Priest (circa Screaming for Vengeance) on their debut Firestorm. Much like fellow trad metal worshippers––such as Stallion, their similarly celebrated High Roller Records labelmates––Ambush works to a rip-roaring throwback recipe that works an utter treat.

Teitanblood: Death (Norma Evangelium Diaboli)
Full-length number two from Spanish duo Teitanblood was a ferocious torrent of occultist blackened death metal that bludgeoned and awed in equal measure. I’m awarding bonus points to the band for stretching the majority of the songs on Death out to epic length and hammering the primitiveness home without a note of boredom ever creeping in.

Black Magic: Wizard’s Spell (High Roller Records)
I bought my first heavy metal LP in 1983. And Black Magic’s Wizard’s Spell sounds like it was recorded around the same time too. It wasn’t, of course, but Wizard’s Spell’s red-raw incantations feature that vintage sound of NWOBHM crashing into speed metal. Giving rise to sonic sorcery, of the highest order.

Riot: Unleash the Fire (Steamhammer)
Riot shouldn’t be making albums as phenomenal as Unleash the Fire at this point in time. I mean, the band’s heyday was in the late 70s and early 80s, and Riot’s sole remaining original member, guitarist Mark Reale, sadly passed away in 2012. Yet, here Riot are. Continuing on with an album that honours Reale’s passing admirably. And also happens to be the band’s best record in decades. It is, hands down, the finest old-school melodic metal album from 2014.

Behemoth: The Satanist (Nuclear Blast)
Primordial: Where Greater Men Have Fallen (Metal Blade)
What I took most from Behemoth’s dramatic and dynamic The Satanist was a strong sense of the all-conquering indomitability of the spirit. Kudos to Primordial’s Where Greater Men Have Fallen for doing much the same, albeit with more epic shield-beating anthems than ave satanas hymns.